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Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
advice
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

It's OK to be takeyai

It's time to look at a family of insects I've not written about before - the Tingidae or 'lacebugs'. These are true bugs (Hemiptera) and, though small, are distinctive due to having a lace-like network of reticulation covering the pronotum and forewings. The function of this isn't immediately obvious, but as they often look like dried seeds or similar, it may be a form of camouflage. They are also flattened dorso-ventrally, with the head, in many species, hidden beneath a hood-like or bulging extension of the pronotum. Although generally unfamiliar to non-entomologists, they can be quite common and there are over 2,000 known species worldwide (25 in the UK, 8 of which are listed as scarce or rare).

All Tingidae are plant-feeders, and being mostly host-specific, some are considered pests. One of these, a Japanese species first recorded in Britain in 1998 (Halstead & Malumphy, 2003) was found in our garden yesterday - the andromeda lacebug Stephanitis takeyai. It feeds on the 'Japanese andromeda' Pieris japonica and has been introduced into the USA and Europe via the ornamental/garden plant trade. It also uses other Pieris species, as well as rhododendrons and azaleas - as such it is sometimes considered a pest in ornamental gardens, though in ours it is welcome to eat what it can find as we don't grow these!

Stephanitis takeyai, approx 4mm long (excluding appendages)
The dark reticulation is clearly visible here and, along with the dark wing markings (which break up the outline) and leaf-coloured legs/antennae I suspect provides effective camouflage. The bulbous hood of the pronotum is visible, almost entirely obscuring the head/eyes, but can been seen more clearly from different angles.

Stephanitis takeyai, side view showing the pronotal hood and, just behind it a thin longitudinal pronotal keel. The flattening of the body is also clear.
Stephanitis takeyai, front view, again showing the pronotal hood.
Although some North American tree-pest species have been well studied, there is a lack of information about the Tingidae in more general sources. There is a short section including keys in Southwood & Leston (1959) and although Ryan (2012) updated the list in this publication, adding S. takeyai and Corythucha ciliata, identification details were not included. However, S. takeyai is a distinctive species, only likely to be confused with another rhododendron-feeding introduction, S. rhododendri which is broadly similar, but has mainly pale wings with a brown band near the base.

S. rhododendri is covered briefly in Becker (1974), Buczacki & Harris (1981) and similar publications, as well as in Southwood & Leston (1959), while Alford (2011) covers the platanus lacebug C. ciliata, a North American pest of various plane trees first found in Britain in 2006, again via the plant trade. However, there is much to learn about these insects, and it seems likely that more will be accidentally imported, so definitely a group worth keeping an eye out for, including on garden/ornamental plants.

References
 
Alford, D.V. (2011). Plant Pests. Collins, London.
Becker, P. (1974). Pests of Ornamental Plants. HMSO, London.
Buczacki, S. & Harris, K. (1981). Guide to the Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants. Collins, London.
Halstead, A.J. & Malumphy, C.P. (2003). Outbreak in Britain of Stephanitis takeyai Drake & Mao (Hemiptera: Tingidae), a pest of Pieris japonica. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History 16: 3-6.
Ryan, R. (2012). An addendum to Southwood & Leston's Land and Water Bugs of the British Isles. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History 25: 205-215.
Southwood, T.R.E. & Leston, D. (1959). Land & Water Bugs of the British Isles. Warne, London. [there is a 2005 reprint which is much cheaper, and a CD-ROM version from Pisces Conservation Ltd.]

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