Ted and Judy

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Colourful Harlequin Bugs

Female Harlequin Bug

Colourful Harlequin Bugs are aptly named. Females are orange with metallic blue-green patches, legs, eyes and antennae. The metallic colouring on the females is variable. Males are metallic blue green with orange markings. 

In contemporary literature the word bugs is used as a broad term to describe insects and spiders, but in scientific language it refers to a particular order of insects, the Hempitera. This order includes, stink bugs, shield bugs, assassin bugs, cicadas, leaf hoppers, aphids, scale insects and mealy bugs.

Harlequin Bugs feed on plants of the family Malvaceae using their long piercing and sucking mouthparts. The Malvaceae includes Hibiscus, Cotton Trees and cotton. This species tends to be gregarious and may occur in large numbers presenting a very colourful display.

Judy and I recently came across a group of Harlequin Bugs feeding in the seedpods of Brachychiton bidwilli shrubs in Elizabeth Street Tugun, Queensland. This species is related to Flame Trees and bottle trees, and we thought we had a new host record for Harlequin Bugs. Checking later we found that the plant family to which Brachychiton belonged is now a subfamily of Malvaceae – mystery solved. The record is unusual though.

The seedpods were split longitudinally exposing hard seeds covered in a dense coating of minute, stiff spines which can penetrate the skin. Once inserted the spines are almost impossible to remove and cause intense irritation. I can vouch to the irritation from a personal experience with Flame Tree seeds. 

We observed clusters of adult females and immature males feeding on the inner wall of the seedpods – heads down tails in the air. The sexes were arranged on separate trees and the number of females increased over several days.

The immature males resemble adults, but without fully developed wings. Rudimentary wings appear as pads on either side of the thorax. The pads expand during several moults becoming fully developed on the last moult. The shield-shaped scutellum between the wing pads expands to cover the abdomen in adults of this family.

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