The longan lanternfly
Writer: Isaac Cohen | Editor: Ye Shangqing | From: Shenzhen Daily
A longan lanternfly is seen on a tree branch in Longhua District.
Starting early March, a series of seasonal changes occur at a time referred to as “惊蛰” (jīngzhé) in traditional Chinese culture. The term means “the awakening of insects,” a moment that brings one of the most exciting events of the year: species reproducing, newborns hatching everywhere and a huge proliferation of numerous insect species, including the fascinating longan lanternfly (Pyrops candelaria).
Although this astonishing animal could be mistaken for a butterfly or a moth, it actually belongs to the family of the planthoppers, which are large colorful insects with remarkable characteristics.
Longan lanternflies have a long white-spotted reddish structure resembling a snout on its head called a proboscis, which the insect uses to dig tiny holes on the tree trunks to reach the nutritious sap. They prefer the longan trees– hence the name – and also litchi trees.
The beauty of these insects isn’t limited to their heads. Their fore wings are of a bright green color and decorated with beautiful yellow markings surrounded by a white frame, and the hind wings are of a flashy yellow with black markings on the tips. Their unique beauty unfortunately attracts collectors to buy and keep them, an activity that has led the insect to be introduced to places where it’s becoming an invasive species affecting crops and threatening the natural balance of local ecosystems.
Like many other insects, the lanternflies’ reproductive strategy depends on the females’ superior egg-laying ability, several times a season and up to 100 eggs per mass. This guarantees a successful survival of enough offspring in spite of predation and other adversary factors. So it is of great importance not to introduce the insects to areas outside their natural habitats, as they may present a risk to the ecosystem, as is currently the case on the island of Taiwan.
Fortunately, that’s not a concern for Shenzhen, where the harmonious interactions among species help to control its populations. Multiple species of birds, reptiles and amphibians are predators of this beautiful insect.
Let’s continue to preserve the local species and natural spaces so that a healthy balance enables us to enjoy them all.