The Lantern Fly Doesn’t Glow!

The insect world is fascinating. The most populous and diverse animal group on Earth, there are over a million known insects. The actual number of insects may be four to five times this number

Published: 31st January 2012 12:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 06:25 PM   |  A+A-

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The insect world is fascinating. The most populous and diverse animal group on Earth, there are over a million known insects. The actual number of insects may be four to five times this number; the rest are still waiting to be described scientifically.

My sojourns to the jungles have thrown up many interesting sightings of insects. During a recent visit to Meghalaya in North east India, I came across a really funky insect. I was reminded of the mid-nineties, when I first saw it at the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary in Kerala. The insect, an inch and a half in size, had a long, pointed snout. In fact, it did not look like an insect at all! It was sitting on a tree trunk just above my head. Each time I tried to get close, it would inch across to the opposite side. The insect and I played hide and seek for a while, before I could  get a good look at it.

The insect I was watching is called a lantern fly. The lantern fly belongs to the insect family called Fulgoridae. It is a sapsucker. Just under its head, it has a short, pointed, tube-like mouth part, which is normally not visible. It uses this to suck fluids from soft stems of plants. The purpose of its long snout, however, remains a mystery. Of course, its long snout does make the insect look bigger than it actually is, and its weird shape probably makes it difficult for its predators to eat it.

In addition to its long snout, the lantern fly has two similar, brightly coloured membranous wings covering its body in a tent-like shape. I was intrigued by this insect’s name; so I researched as to why it is called a lantern fly. To my surprise, I found that the name given to the insect was a mistake. Many years ago, people believed these flies glowed when they mated; hence they named it the lantern fly. Though this was an error, the insect is stuck with this name!

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