Who Spit in My Garden?

Photo by Carolynn Waites

I have often seen this wad of spit on plants in my garden. The first time I saw it, I was wondering how in the world someone spit on a plant in my backyard. I did a quick Google search and learned that it is actually created by a bug. Okay, mystery solved. I never gave it much thought again.

Recently I discovered a small nature trail near where I live. I took the camera and documented several of the wildflowers that appeared there. I noticed this wad of “spit” and decided it was time to learn more about it.

This aptly named insect is called a spittlebug. It is a member of the Cercopidae Family. It is also known as a froghopper, because its face looks a bit like a frog. It is related to the leafhopper. There are over 23,000 species of spittlebugs, but chances are that you have never seen one. The winged adult is less than 1/4″ long and their dull green or tan coloring blends in with the leaves they feed on.

The spittle is a liquid secretion that the spittlebug nymph produces from its back end to cover its body. It will move and pump its body to make it foam, then use its hind legs to spread the froth over its body. This froth serves several purposes: it insulates the nymph from temperature extremes, it shields it from predators, and it keeps it hydrated. The saliva-like froth is commonly known as cuckoo spit, snake spit, or frog spit.

The spittlebug will lay eggs on old plant debris to overwinter. When the nymphs originally hatch in early spring, they will attach themselves to a plant and begin feeding. They are almost invisible inside the spittle. The young go through five stages before adulthood. Adult froghoppers jump from plant to plant. They can jump 100 times their own length.

They suck little sap from the plant, and rarely do any damage unless there are large numbers of them. To remove them from a plant, a strong spray from a garden hose is usually all that is needed. The best course of action is let it be. It is wonderful reminder of the wonders that nature produces all around us.





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