Insect of the week – Delicate basketwork can mean trouble for gum trees

By Huw Morgan

3 June 2012

1 minute read

Lerps are shelters produced by immature bugs of the family Psyllidae. Each species of ‘lerp insect’ produces its own design; this one belongs to Cardiaspina textrix.

By Kim Pullen

Psyllids are small bugs with soft, vulnerable bodies, so how do they escape predators? Adult psyllids can jump and fly out of harm’s way – that’s why they are sometimes called ‘jumping plant lice’.

But the immature – nymphs – can neither jump nor fly. So many Australian species find protection under a cover they produce from their own secretion of honeydew, a carbohydrate-rich liquid that hardens on contact with air.

These ‘lerps’ find exquisite shapes and forms, sometimes resembling miniature cockleshells, or with wispy white threads.

Psyllids are sap suckers and their feeding can damage plant tissue. Periodic outbreaks on eucalypts can discolour the whole canopy; if severe attacks continue, the tree may die.