What's Bugging You?

Spittlebug - (Aphrophoridae Family)

Spittlebugs are usually not a big problem on the Prairies but do occasionally appear on potted deciduous shrubs from warmer North American climates. They are also found in eastern Canada and extreme southern areas of the prairie provinces and British Columbia. Spittle Bugs are aptly named as the first sign of a spittlebug problem is a white frothy foam easily seen on deciduous shrubs and plants such as roses, herbs, ornamental grasses, and strawberries. The good news is that spittlebugs are not harmful to humans and do very little harm to the affected plants or shrubs. The ‘spittle’ can be hosed off the plant with clear or very mild soapy water. Insecticides are rarely effective as the spittle protects the nymphs inside the foamy mass.

The culprits that produce the white foamy masses are spittlebug nymphs. Thankfully, there is only one generation per year. The wingless nymphs hatch from eggs in late April and early May. They start feeding at the base of the plant and make their way up the stems looking for the most juicy plant parts. As they progress up the plant stem, they also go through multiple molts (instar stages) and multiple colors – orange, yellow and green and have large red eyes on the sides of their head. Spittlebug nymphs produce their signature white foam which protects the nymphs from insecticides, natural predators, excessive heat and drying out. As they suck out the sugary fluids from the plant’s stems and leaves, they secrete the white foam from their anus, mix it with a thick abdominal gland -secretion and then blow air bubbles into the mass with a special air valve on their abdomen. As they do this they pull the white froth up and over their bodies with their hind legs. The nymphs reach adulthood in 5-8 weeks.

The adults emerge in mid to late July. They are winged and fly off to fields and weedy areas in summer. The females return in the fall to lay their eggs on plants that will supply the nymphs with food next spring. The eggs may also overwinter in leaf litter and small cracks and crevices throughout the garden.

Adult Spittlebugs are also called froghoppers because they have large hind legs for jumping. In fact they can jump 100 times their body length straight up in the air. The adults are about .64 cm to 1.25 cm. long and turn from green, to brown and finally to gray as they mature. They are often mistaken for leafhoppers but have the larger back legs, broader frog-like bodies, and a triangular head shape. They also have two thorn-like spurs and a row of black spines on the outer edge of the shin part (tibia) of each leg.

FYI - If you spot spittlebug foam on a plant, rinse it off with a strong stream of water. Repeat the rinse periodically over a two week period, just to make sure they are gone. Adult spittlebugs are also a favorite food of birds, spiders, wasps and ants.

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