Midwesterners may have noticed there has been a rise of folks spitting on plants… Nah, I’m just pulling your leg! Spittlebugs are on the rise this Spring, as I’m seeing them not only in my ornamental garden, but in the forest preserves and right of ways. These little Froghoppers are in the Cercopidae family, which contains 23,000 different family members.
For strawberry farmers (a fav of spittlebugs), the spittlebugs are mildly annoying at one spittle mass per square foot, also called “aesthetic threshold”. At five or more spittle masses per square foot, harvests can become affected. I think we’re there this year.
Spittle is produced by the nymph manipulating its body and using broken-down plant juices to blow the tiny bubbles. After there are enough bubbles to surround their bodies, they use their rear legs to cover themselves. Ironically, it’s not spit that makes the spittle… it comes out of the other end of the nymph (farttle?) 😉 The spittle protects them from predators, temperature changes and helps them from dehydrating.
Although spittlebug nymphs and adults do feed on plant sap, the damage is minimal and populations are generally small and don’t warrant pesticide use. In extreme cases, they can cause stunting and weaken plants or reduce yields. An easy way to rid yourself of them is to dislodge them with a blast from the hose. I have read about predatory wasps of the spittlebug, however not sure if they are here in the Midwest. Should you have a severe infestation, be sure to remove plant debris in Fall and lightly till the soil to reduce the amount of eggs for the next season.
After five instars, spittlebugs become froghopper adults, named as such because of their resemblance to frogs. They now have a hard exoskeleton, which keeps them from drying out and they are able to emerge from the spittle. Adult froghoppers travel by jumping, with some species jumping vertically as high as 28 inches/70 cm! This feat surpasses the ability of fleas!
A leafhopper (Family Cicadellidae) has a row of prominent, regular spines on its rear tibiae (the second long leg segment). Spittlebugs/froghopper (Cercopidae) have no such regular spines, (but may have a few irregular ones). Treehoppers (Membracidae), usually have elaborated pronotums.
On Lychnis chalcedonica ~ Maltese cross || On Weedy Grass
On Echinacea || On Chaenomeles speciosa
© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl