Crazy Eyes

Spissistilus festinus | Stoneville, Mississippi

Spissistilus festinus (three-cornered alfalfa hopper) is one of the few truly economic pests in the otherwise bizarre and innocuous family Membracidae (treehoppers).  Its common name alludes to one of the crops it affects, but my encounters with this species are most often in soybean (I am, after all, a soybean entomologist).  Damage in this crop is caused by both adults and nymphs, whose piercing/sucking mouthparts cause girdling and breakage of the stem—often just a few inches above the soil.  This individual was seen during my travels last week in a soybean field in Stoneville, Mississippi, where numbers throughout the season were especially high this year.  Although I have seen innumerable S. festinus adults, I have never noticed their crazy, zig-zag patterned red and white eyes until I managed this closeup face shot (click on photo for best view).

This slightly cropped photo was taken with a 100mm macro lens and full extension tube set, resulting in slightly more than 2X magnification.  One of the lessons I took from was the need to pay more attention to background and value contrast.  By placing the subject a few inches in front of the dark green soybean foliage I was able to achieve a much more pleasing background than the typical black background one gets with full flash photos at high magnification.  Although both the subject and the background are green, there is still sufficient difference in shade to create contrast between them.  Light-green is one of the more difficult colors to work with when full flash is used with high shutter speeds and small apertures to maximize crispness and detail (in this case, 1/250 sec and f/16).  However, increasing ISO to 400 and lowering flash exposure compensation to -2/3 can reduce the amount of flash needed to illuminate the subject with such settings, making it easier to achieve a properly exposed and true-colored subject.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2011

70 thoughts on “Crazy Eyes

  1. wow. just a GREAT photo, interesting stuff, and yes, TRIPPY eyes. Nice. Plus, who can resist a post titled “crazy eyes.” Not me. =) I’m heading toward ND, so perhaps I’ll run around and see if I can find any of these guys.

  2. I love that photo! I’ve also had trouble capturing light green so I appreciate the camera tips. I find that little guy rather endearing and I was disappointed to learn that they are destructive pests. Interesting post nonetheless.

  3. This is an amazing post and picture! I can’t believe it! Come read my blog at I just like to write poetry, short stories, and articles, and would love feedback from such an amazing blogger!

  4. The picture is wonderful and the Spissistilus festinus is amazing, it´s cover is like brilliant and the color is beautiful. The only bad thing is that this insect is a pests.
    The form of take this picture is very good.

  5. Pingback: Macrophotography entomology blog | Gary Lum's Blog and website

  6. Though I am much aware of tropical species from the order Hemiptera, i am quite fascinated with this treehopper. The picture really looks fantastic though the effect that this insect causes is not good (e.g. decrease in plant yield etc.)I love your blog by the way! 🙂 I’m an entomophile too.

  7. Pingback: Tree Hoppers on CBC


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