Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ meet the spittlebug!

No matter where I went last week - whether it was a walk down the road or following the bees through the tall grass where buttercups and yarrow are growing - there were plants covered with spitballs. Those spitballs are the foam homes of spittlebugs, immature froghoppers.

Spittlebugs are true bugs, related to aphids and cicadas. They have pointy beaks that they stick into stems and use to suck up the plant sap. They pump excess sap out, forcing air into it to make a bubble mass that will cover their bodies. These bubble homes protect the spittlebugs from parasites, keeps it from drying out, and also protects it from predators, such as ants.

What kind of plants do spittlebugs hang out on? Take a walk and find out. Look at pine trees and plants growing in weedy areas of your lawn or a park.

Where do they hang out? Look in leaf axils - where leaves meet the stems.

Do they like tips of plants? The middle of plants? The bases of plants? And does it depend on what kind of plant it is? Jot down the kinds of plants you find them on, and where they are on those plants.

Do they share their plants with other spittlebugs? How many foam homes do you find on plants? Are they close together or far apart?

How long does it take to make a spit-bubble home? To find out, gently remove a spittlebug (remember, they are babies) from its home and put it on another part of the plant. Then watch it start creating a new spit bubble home.

More on Spittlebugs here:
Great photos and info about spittlebugs over at Wild and Free Montana
and more at Missouri Botanical Gardens

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