Explanation of Names
Membracoidea (Rafinesque, 1815)
5 families, 3 of which are in our area. see "remarks" for information on the status of these families.
Aetalionidae Spinola, 1850: new world
Cicadellidae Latreille, 1825: cosmopolitan
Melizoderidae Deitz & Dietrich, 1993: neotropical
Membracidae Rafinesque, 1815: cosmopolitan
Myerslopiidae Evans, 1957: New Zealand, Chile
note: numerous extinct families are sometimes placed in this superfamily, but they generally belong in now extinct Cicadomorphan superfamilies
This is the largest and most diverse superfamily of the Auchenorrhyncha and is confidently monophyletic. However, the higher taxonomy within the superfamily is very unstable and phylogenic analysis has revealed surprising information about the relationships among families in this group—many of which have so far raised more questions than answers.
As of 2021, there are currently five families recognised: Aetalionidae, Cicadellidae, Melizoderidae, Membracidae and Myerslopiidae. However, many of these families are still recognised only due to practicality and the problems that will arise from the taxonomic changes that will address the latest understanding of the superfamily (McKamey pers. comm.). The most glaring and well-known issue is that of the relationships between the treehoppers (Aetalionidae, Melizoderidae, and Membracidae) and the typical leafhoppers (Cicadellidae). Analysis by Hamilton (1983) and later (e.g. Dietrich, 1999) has made it quite clear that treehoppers are derived from within leafhoppers, placing the families somewhere after the related Cicadellid subfamilies Ulopinae and Megophthalminae. In the past, Membracidae and kin have been resolved numerous times as sister to the Cicadellidae up until molecular phylogenic work could be done. The confirmation that treehoppers are derived from within leafhoppers is deemed highly problematic as it challenges centuries of morphological classification and would render "Cicadellidae" a jr. synonym of "Membracidae" due to older names taking precedent through nomenclatural code in a merger of the taxa. While this seems to be an inevitable change, taxonomists are currently avoiding it until more data can be gathered as they believe the current classification of the Membracoid families is useful for the clear differentiation of different characters and will prolong the usefulness of older keys. Some have proposed potentially breaking Cicadellidae into multiple families (think of the families of Fulgoroidea) in order to clarify the relationships between lineages and retain the treehopper families. Currently, however, it is believed that the treehoppers will be collapsed into Cicadellidae forming the large family Membracidae, based on the relationships between the taxa not warranting clear family-level divisions.
Least consequential to BugGuide and the U.S. understanding of Membracoidea (but still important) is the relationship of Myerslopiidae to the rest of Membracoidea. This subterranean relict taxon, found in New Zealand and Chile is poorly known, but phylogenic analysis (Hamilton, 1999 and beyond) has shown this family to be sister to the remainder of Membracoidea with no close relatives. Molecular analysis (Skinner, et. al. 2019) has confirmed this relationship.
- Solomon Hendrix