Friday, June 22, 2012


Ever notice foamy white spitballs clinging to some of the tall grass and plants in the “less-mowed” section of your yard? It’s a spittlebug, a baby “froghopper” that’s making that froth.

Spittlebugs are true bugs, like aphids and other sap-sucking homoptera that stick their short pointy beaks into stems. But spittlebugs are messy eaters. As they spill sap down their bodies, they add some air and make bubbles. It makes sense: they don’t have hard shells to protect themselves. And the bubbles help keep their skin moist. Besides, who wants to eat a blob of spit?

To see a spittlebug up close, grab a watercolor brush and a handlens. Then head out to the nearest weed patch – or pine tree – and look for the tell-tale blobs of foam. Use the paintbrush to gently brush the spit aside. In there somewhere you should find a tiny green insect with huge eyes and even huger hind legs.

Spittlebugs can churn out 80 spit bubbles in a minute. Want to watch? Using your paintbrush, remove a spittlebug from its home and put it somewhere else on the plant. Then watch. It might take a few minutes for the tiny guy to find the “perfect” place to tap, but when it does, it will start to make foam. Use a watch to time how long it takes to completely cover itself.

Some other spittlebug questions to investigate:
  • Do spittlebugs share foam homes with their friends?
  • Where do they tend to hang out: on the sides of stems or where leaves meet the stems?
  • Do they build spit shelters in or under flowers?
  • How high up on plants do they go?
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  1. Well, thanks for introducing me to the bug behind the familiar foam! who knew the ability to make bubbles could be a protective skill! :-)

  2. Excellent tips. I'm going to try this tomorrow with my boys. I've always seen the foam but never thought of taking a peek.