Insect of the week: 10 June 2024

Dulinius sp. (Hemiptera: Heteroptera: Tingoidea: Tingidae)

Tingidae (lace bugs) is a large family of ca. 2000 phytophagous species, some few of which are minor pests of cultivated crops. Most species are monogamous only attacking  specific hosts, hence giving rise to descriptive common names that reference their host, such as Leptodictya tabida the sugar cane lace bug, Pseudacysta perseae, the avocado lace bug and Teleonemia scrupulosa, the Lantana lace bug. The extensive network of veins on the forewings and the pronotum, together with their small (often very small) size, give them a delicate appearance.  However, the large number of extant lace bug species suggests that they are tougher than they look. Their heads are often hidden by the pronotum and some are armed with spike-like protuberances, offering a layer of protection. As adults they are so different looking from other bugs that they are placed in a superfamily of their own (Tingoidea), with but one family, the Tingidae. Our insect this week, Dulinius sp., is a strange yet appealing figure. It looks a bit like a cross between Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and the Hindenberg. We collected Dulinius in a Malaise trap set in a clearing within Endau Forest, eastern Kenya, at the bottom of Endau Mountain.

Tingidae are true bugs and are armed with a piercing and sucking proboscis, dining on the host plant’s phloem. They are not commonly responsible for economic loss, although young olive shoots can be defoliated.  Fossil Tingidae have been found that date to the early Cretaceous onwards, with the oldest being the genus Sinaldocader from the Early Cretaceous Zaza formation of  Buryatia, Russia (great name).

The genus Dulinius was described in 1903 by the English entomologist William Lucas Distant (1845-1922). Like many Victorian entomologists, his study of insects followed travels of discovery, in Distant’s case to South Africa and Malaysia, out of which were born his most important works, “Rhopalocera [butterflies] Malayana (1882-1886)”, “A Naturalist in the Transvaal (1892)” and “Insecta Transvaaliensia 1900-1911”. Distant’s father was a whaling ship’s captain, and his older brother was a ship’s captain in Malaysia, which might go far to explaining William’s wanderlust. He started out working in a tannery. His later interest in insects led to his employment at the Natural History Museum, London. Shortly before his death he sold his collection of 50,000 specimens to the museum. Distant described 15 genera and more than 100 species.

Credits: Dr Robert Copeland