The Spittlebug

April 25, 2010

Have you ever noticed little bits of foamy bubbles on a leaf or a plant? It has been one of life’s numerous mysteries for me until today- now I know that the bubbles are the subterfuge of the Spittlebug, also known as the Froghopper. Never mind that there are also ants in the above photo, there is a bug hiding in the bubbles.

There are over 23,000 species of spittlebugs. Amazing considering I have yet to actually see more than the ‘evidence’. The spit does 3 things: hiding the spittlebugs from predators, insulating them from low and high temperatures and preventing the spittlebugs from dehydrating. The young nymph bugs secrete a liquid which they churn with their legs and bodies to create the frothy bubbles. Then they hang out and suck the sap from plants.

They are also called Froghoppers because their little faces look like frogs. Sortof.

In some places they can be a persistent pest, sucking the life out of plants. Ehow says to wash the bubbles off the plants and that insecticides are not necessary to control spittlebugs. Usually there is very little damage from this bug. I don’t see evidence of it here in New England. the eggs are deposited in the fall and overwinter. In the spring, the nymph emerges and does the spit thing. There are some kinds of spit bugs that are considered pesky- in N Carolina there is a striped bug that eats up grass/turf and also attacks holly causing the leaves to become splotchy and yellow and to drop prematurely. That would be a pest.

In New England the spittlebug can attack Red pine and Jack pine. Scots pine, which is increasingly planted for Christmas trees, is occasionally injured by the spittlebug. White pine is frequently fed upon but seldom damaged severely.

Pestech..(which I’d never use…) says “Adult spittlebugs thought to be Aphrophora saratogensis have been collected from pitch pine, tamarack, balsam fir, and northern white-cedar-usually from trees near infested red pine. The nymphs require two alternate hosts for their development. The early stages or instars feed on herbaceous species of plants of the forest floor such as brambles (raspberry and blackberry), orange hawkweed, everlasting, aster, and many others. Older nymphs feed on sweet-fern  and willow sprouts.”

The thing to do is wash the spit away if you find it in the garden.

PS says the spit doesn’t come out of the bug’s mouth….