Planthopper nymph with colorful tail

Photo: melvyn yeo/flickr

A dazzling display

In the time between hatching and becoming full-grown adults, tiny planthopper nymphs put on a flashy show. The planthoppers can secrete a waxy substance from their abdomen that results in strange, fiber optic-like tails. These decorations serve at least two purposes: to encourage predators to "ooh, ahh" instead of eating them, and to help them glide as they fall.

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A planthopper nymph with a waxy protrusion, before it fans out

Photo: melvyn yeo/flickr

As the planthopper gets ready to do its favorite thing — hop around — it moves the waxy threads into a sleek line. It moves ever so slowly before making a great leap, and it can fan the threads back out for an extra boost while it's in the air.

The planthopper may seem large in the photo above, but in reality, it is so tiny that you might think it was a mote of dust flickering through the woods.

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Ricaniidae planthopper nymph appears to have a fiber optic tail

Photo: ChinKC/Shutterstock

Planthoppers, like their equally-wacky treehopper cousins, are fascinating to observe. But like caterpillars, the seemingly vulnerable insects can hold their own.

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Ricaniidae nymph with colorful, fiber-optic style tail

Photo: ChinKC/Shutterstock

Carly Brooke of The Featured Creature aptly compares the planthoppers' colorful protruding tails to fireworks. "The wax is hydrophobic, too, so these 'fireworks' stand no chance of rain delay," she writes on her site.

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A planthopper nymph with a fluffy protrusion

Photo: melvyn yeo/flickr

Different planthopper species have different extruding tails. The one above resembles a feathery dandelion, offering a clever form of camouflage.

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Flatidae planthopper nymph also has a strange protrusion

Photo: Karunakar Rayker/flickr

Stranger yet is the spider-like tail of the flatid nymph here. Watch wildlife filmmaker Gordon Buchanan have a little fun with a group of "ridiculous" planthoppers in this clip from Smithsonian Channel's "Wild Burma: Chasing Tigers":

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