Spittlebugs Are Nothing to Fear

Last week while I was checking the progress of my strawberries I came upon the item you see in the photo attached to this post: a foamy white mass on a stem of my monstrous oregano. I knew better than to think a passerby had spit into my community garden plot. This mass was familiar to me, although I hadn’t seen a specimen in quite some time.

This is evidence of the presence of something called the spittlebug, or spittle bug, and apparently also called a froghopper, in the family Cercopoidea. When the nymph stage of this insect emerges it excretes a liquid, which it then pumps up with air, creating bubbles. Call it the barista of the insect world. The nymph covers itself with this foam, which can last for week.

Is the foam some sort of camouflage? While it is a good place in which to hide from predators, the foam helps prevent this moist and fleshy creature from drying out. It also helps to regulate the environment directly enclosing the nymph.

What’s the nymph doing under there? Is it chomping away at your kale? Yes. Well, no. Sort of. It feeds on plant juices but doesn’t chomp. Their feeding results in minor and unnoticeable damage. Unless you have an outrage outbreak of these guys, which is unlikely. I chose to leave mine exactly where it was to see what happens to it in a few weeks. If I wanted to get rid of this guy I could use a hose to spray him off.

The reason I know spittlebugs exist is from my time working as an extension agent back in college. I was an Integrated Pest Management scout, going into fields to count (more like estimate) insect and disease populations. Spittlebugs could be found in the U-Pick strawberry fields. You can imagine that if a U-Pick customer walked into a field and saw spittle on the plants they were about to harvest from, that it might cause a loss of business (“Eeew, gross! Someone’s been spitting in here! Let’s leave, Harry.”).

But for the home gardener, you’ll be just fine. And now you know better than to say, “Eeew, gross!”

Meet Ellen Wells

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