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Facts on Spittle Bugs

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If you wonder why your trees, plants or grass are covered with white foam, you could blame the spittlebug. Named for the secretions they produce, spittlebugs—also known as froghoppers—don't usually do much damage to plants unless they're present in massive numbers. If you bother an adult spittlebug, it readily jumps off a plant.

Spittlebug Appearance

Spittlebugs mature to about a quarter of an inch long. Green, orange or brown, they blend in well with plant material, so it might be hard to see them in your garden or shrubbery. Oval-shaped adult spittlebugs sport large eyes. Nymphs, while smaller, are yellow or green. One subspecies, the black twolined spittlebug, is named for the two orange lines on the wings. Twolined spittlebug nymphs are lighter in color, with brown heads.

Location, Location, Location

Spittlebugs live in most of the continental United States. They can be found on almost any type of plant. A subspecies also exists in tropical climates in the Western Hemisphere. The twolined spittlebug often feeds on turf grasses.

Spittlebug Life Cycle

The female spittlebug lays her eggs on inconspicuous parts of the host plant, including underneath the stems and leaves. If the spittlebug inhabits a tree, she'll lay eggs on the bark. Eggs hatch in mid-spring in most parts of the country. Once hatched, the nymphs undergo a series of molts. They turn into adults by midsummer.

Producing Spittle

Although grown spittlebugs blend in well with plants, the immature bugs leave behind the telltale spittle. Nymphs produce masses of the white froth. Affected plants and trees might appear to have snow on the branches in the late spring or early summer. The immature bugs form the froth from the sap they suck, using their breathing tubes to introduce air bubbles into clear fluid that they excrete. The spittle produced by the nymphs helps prevent them from drying out. It also protects them from insect predators. Several nymphs might share one frothy mass.

Getting Rid of Spittlebugs

Unlike with some other insect infestations, it isn't imperative that you eradicate spittlebugs. Although their spittle is unsightly, the insects themselves don't usually do lasting damage to plants. If you want to get rid of them, pick them off the plant by hand or lightly hose them off. There's no need to use chemicals to remove these minor pests.