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Have you ever noticed what looks like a mass of spit on a plant in the woods, on the prairie, or in your garden?

I suspect that most of you probably have seen it, but probably gave it little attention. It is called spittle, and it’s produced by a type of insect called a spittlebug.

If you are curious enough to look through the spittle, you will likely find a small green nymph (larvae), perhaps a quarter inch long, attached to the plant stem. The nymphs have sucking mouthparts which enables them to suck the liquid from the plant.

Spittlebugs are insects in the Order Hemiptera, more commonly known as true bugs. The Order also includes aphids, leafhoppers, and cicadas.

Spittlebugs are also known as froghoppers which is a reference to their ability to jump high and far. Spittlebugs are sucking insects, but unlike aphids and many other sucking insects that feed on the phloem or the sugar conducting tissue, spittlebugs feed on the xylem or water conducting tissue of the plant.

Spittle might be a good descriptive term for the material surrounding the nymph, but this stuff doesn’t come out of their mouth! The spittle forms from anal secretions which are mixed with a substance that forms a foamy material. As the spittle is produced, the nymph uses its hind legs to surround itself with it.

It has been hypothesized that the spittle helps prevent the insect from dehydration, keeps it cool during hot weather, and helps protect it from predators. It could be a combination of all three factors.

At any rate, do not fret over the spittle or the bugs! They pose no risk to us, our pets, or our plants.

Further Reading

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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