Meet one of the insect world's most protective moms.
Sure, deer have antlers, rhinos have horns, and armadillos are covered in armor – but don't discount the exuberant helmet of the tiny treehopper!
There are more than 3,000 species of treehoppers, perhaps best known for their terrific toppers, scientifically known as a pronotum. Used for both camouflage and defense, the headgear comes in all shapes and sizes, taking on the appearance of everything from seeds to even ants.
The sweet creature seen here is Alchisme grossa, who sports a thorn-mimicking pronotum. Photographed by wildlife photographer and biologist Lucas Bustamante in the Ecuadorian highlands, it is easy to see how she might make for a painful snack, if she could even be seen at all given her excellent disguise.
But the fancy hat does double duty beyond camouflage. As noted at the California Academy of Sciences' online magazine, bioGraphic, A. grossa is one the most attentive of all insect parents, "this tiny treehopper fiercely defends her offspring until they're fully grown, using her thorn-shaped headdress as both shield and intimidation tool."
"In a surprising show of parental investment, female A. grossa treehoppers stand watch over each clutch of eggs they produce until their babies have hatched and developed into adulthood," explains bopGraphic. "When a predator or parasite approaches, females shield their offspring from view or twist and vibrate their bodies aggressively to ward off the intruder."
Researchers have found that the larger the headgear, the bigger the clutches of babes and the higher rates of survival for offspring. If mothers with the best headgear are the most successful in bearing and raising their young, well that's a pretty good indication that evolution is doing its thing. There's no telling what fanciful forms the pronotum may evolve into in the future, but for now, A. Grossa is living her best mom life, thorn hat and all.
For more on treehoppers and other wonders of nature, visit bioGraphic.