I love finding something that flummoxes me. So I was intrigued to spot this three- to four-millimeter long insect parading up and down grasses near the horse area at Mount Pisgah. At that small size, I couldn’t tell if it was a beetle or a bug, and at first I thought the enlarged front legs might be its antennae.
At home, I downloaded the photos, did some research and found out it’s a true bug in a planthopper family called Caliscelidae. It has the common name Piglet Bug.
I’d found a male Caliscelis bonellii, and the resemblance to a small pig didn’t make much sense at first. If anything, I would’ve called it a Lobster Bug, but it turns out the females have a more piggy look, which I’ll get to in a minute.
This planthopper is an introduced species in the U.S., first noticed in 1965 in California. Josh Vlach, an entomologist with the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, said they found it in Roseburg, OR in 2008, and scientists aren’t sure how it got there. He told me, “It seems like it might disperse along railroad corridors (based on where we found it), but I can certainly imagine hay and straw as a way for it to disperse.” It isn’t harmful and isn’t considered a pest.
What are those oversized front-foot paddles for, you may wonder? As far as anyone can tell, they’re not for grabbing food (bugs use their rostrum to pierce plant material to eat), or for fighting off predators or rivals. Entomologists think they’re simply jazzy accessories in the Piglet Bug mating dance.
I finally found a female after quite a bit of time scouring the ground, and I didn’t get a great picture, but it’s good enough to give you the gist. Female Piglet Bugs don’t have quite the exaggerated front legs or the spiffy, tuxedo-jacket look of the males. They’re more round-backed, and their big eyes and pointy, true-bug rostrum lend them some piggishness.
If you care to see them, these Piglet Bugs are plentiful in areas of mixed dried and green grasses these days, and the coloring of the males stands out against both.
See more of Karen’s work here.
Summary, with photos, of the Caliscelidae family: https://sites.udel.edu/planthoppers/north-america/north-american-caliscelidae/. Accessed 9/20/21.
Species page on BugGuide: https://bugguide.net/node/view/15674. Accessed 9/20/21.