While out on the black cotton soil today, I spotted two tiny dots in the center of two leaves. Looking more closely, they were actually cute leaf beetles just 4 mm in length, resting motionless to resemble some sort of outgrowth on the leaves. They belong to the subfamily Cassidinae (Chrysomelidae), a clade consisting of beautifully adorned tiny beetles including the tortoise beetles, and many of which have large adhesive pads on the tarsal segments of their feet. Together with a small head and thick string-like antennae, this gives them a comical and adorable look. These two beetles (Dicladispa testacea) are heavily protected with tough black spines as well as a pair of four-pronged antlers protruding from the thorax, reminding me white-tailed deer horns. After searching the plant, I was able to find several larvae and pupae, also positioned at the center, though inside, of the leaves. Dicladispa is a leaf miner, biting on the underside of a leaf and ovipositing a single egg before closing the gap with frass. A single larva will spend its entire phase feeding on the mesophyll in that single leaf and eventually pupates along a narrow channel near the surface of the leaf. Finally, out pops a beautiful little leaf beetle, ready to continue chewing on its host plant to leave just an airy network of dry leaf veins.
Ever since the first rains arrived, we’ve also seen a mass emergence of spotted jewel beetles (Buprestidae: Sternocera castanea boucardii).
See this link for the wonderful diversity of color within the Sternocera genus.