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.





Backyard Birding

Birds in Birdfeeder (2)
Photo by Carolynn Waites

It was a beautiful day yesterday. My husband and I took full advantage of the glorious weather by spending most of the afternoon on our back patio watching the birds hanging around our bird feeder.

I took photos so I would be able to identify the birds that visited. None of the pictures turned out great because I was zoomed in all the way, but they were good enough for identification purposes.

The three birds that are sharing the feeder in this photo above are (from left to right) a House Sparrow, a Dove, and a Red-winged Blackbird. These are all common birds in the Houston area, but before yesterday I did not know what the small brown and white birds were that love my backyard: House Sparrows.

House Finch 2
Photo by Carolynn Waites

On the right is a picture of another interesting bird that was spending time with us. We were fascinated by the impressive red coloring around his head and breast. I compared my photos with an on-line bird identification guide and learned that it is a House Finch. They are also supposed to be fairly common in our area, but I honestly can not tell you if I have ever noticed one before.

I have a number of books about local birds, but the pictures never seem to look like the birds that I am trying to identify. I have fallen in love with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. If you want to know anything about birds, this is a fantastic site. I find their identification tools to be extremely helpful.

I have always enjoyed watching the birds in my backyard, but have never taken the time before yesterday to learn about our feathered guests. I enjoyed a beautiful day with my husband, furnished some local birds with a tasty treat, and educated myself on my own backyard ecosystem.

No matter where you are, when you step outside take a moment to breathe deeply and notice your natural surroundings. Even if you are in the middle of a concrete jungle, there is still nature coexisting with the city. Take a moment out of your day to enjoy the life outside of your own.