Look closely at the wildflowers and grasses in a meadow during the summer months and you might be surprised at how much life is thriving below the casual gaze of human passers-by. If you live in Britain, Europe or North America (where these critters were accidentally introduced in the 1830s), one of the bugs you are quite likely to see is this aptly named Meadow plant bug (Leptopterna dolabrata).
It’s tiny, only about ⅓ inch (8mm) long, and rather well camouflaged amongst the plant stems and leaves. As you might expect from the name plant bug, it feeds on plants. In fact, it’s an expert sucker, using its stylet (piercing mouthpart) to inject into the plant stem an enzyme-rich saliva, which begins to break down the plant tissues even before the bug sucks out the resulting plant soup.
Leptopterna dolabrata is sexually dimorphic so the males and females have slightly different colouring, plus the males are fully winged whereas the females are usually only partly winged. You can see the differences in the mating pair shown above. And below is a plant bug nymph, probably one of their offspring – I say probably because many of the nymphs look alike so it’s difficult to tell exactly which species they are.