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Large abdominal mechanoreceptive sense organs in small plant-dwelling insects

  • The Hemiptera is the largest non-endopterygote insect order comprising approximately 98,000 recent species. All species of the suborders Cicadomorpha (leafhoppers, spittlebugs, treehoppers and cicadas) and Fulgoromorpha (planthoppers) feed by sucking sap from plant tissues and are thus often vectors for economically important phytopathogens. Except for the cicadas (Cicadomorpha: Cicadoidea: Cicadidae) which produce air-borne sounds, all species of the suborders Cicadomorpha and Fulgoromorpha communicate by vibrational (substrate-borne) signals. While the generation of these signals has been extensively investigated, the mechanisms of perception are poorly understood. This study provides a full description and 3D reconstruction of a large and complex array of six paired chordotonal organs in the first abdominal segments of the Rhododendron leafhopper Graphocephala fennahi (Cicadomorpha: Membracoidea: Cicadellidae). Further we were able to identify homologous organs in the closely related spittlebug Philaenus spumarius (Cicadomorpha: Cercopoidea: Aphrophoridae) and the planthopper Issus coleoptratus (Fulgoromorpha: Fulgoroidea: Issidae). The configuration is congruent with the abdominal chordotonal organs in cicadas, where one of them is an elaborate tympanal organ. This indicates that these organs, together with the tymbal organ constitute a synapomorphy of the Tymbalia (Hemiptera excl. Sternorrhyncha). Our results contribute to the understanding of the evolution from substrate-borne to airborne communication in insects.

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Author:Sarah Ehlers, Daniel BaumORCiD, Roland Mühlethaler, Hannelore Hoch, Peter Bräunig
Document Type:Article
Parent Title (English):Biology Letters
Year of first publication:2022
Published in:Biology Letters
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