Common Names: Spittlebug, Froghopper

If you spot little blobs of foam or mass of bubbles on your plants, the culprit is most definitely- spittlebug nymphs. Contrary to popular belief, the foam isn’t really spit. Spittlebug nymphs suck plant juices like aphids, but they remove so much water and carbohydrates that excess fluid is produced.

They cover themselves with this fluid and then produce the spittle by bubbling air from the tip of the abdomen into the liquid. The froth serves a number of purposes. It hides the nymph from the view of predators and parasites, it insulates against heat and cold, thus providing thermal control and also moisture control. Without the froth the insect would quickly dry up.

Spittlebug adult.

Spittlebug adult.

Description

Adults are oval, frog-faced, and 6 to 10 mm long. They are tan, mottled brown, or black and are similar to leafhoppers in appearance but stouter, with sharp spines on the hind legs. Adults are very active and jump when disturbed. Nymphs are yellow to yellow-green in color, look similar to adults but are wingless, and can be found inside the foamy mass of “spittle.” Eggs are white to beige in color.

Life Cycle

Overwintering eggs hatch in spring (mid-April), and nymphs develop for 6-7 weeks in spittle masses on plant stems. Adults feed throughout summer and start to lay overwintering eggs in rows on stems or stubble by early fall, around September.

Host Plants

Strawberry, legume forage crops such as clover and alfalfa, many ornamental and nursery plants including junipers and pine trees.

Spittlebug nymph.

Spittlebug nymph.

Damage

Spittlebugs are rarely a serious problem in home gardens simply causing an unsightly mess. In crop plants however, adults and nymphs suck plant juices, causing stunted, dwarfed, and weakened plants with reduced yields. Adults migrate in large numbers from hay fields to nearby crops when hay is cut; this is when home gardens can be suddenly infested.

Organic Control and Prevention of Spittlebugs

1. Cultural control: Spittlebug eggs overwinter in old garden debris and other such areas so a good garden clean up ridding of old plant material before the start of every growing season will considerably limit the numbers that hatch. Make a point to till under stubble of foliage legumes in the fall as they are usually found there.

2. Monitor, handpick and spray: Keep a keen eye out for spittlebug patches and when you detect them, spray a direct stream of water on the patches to dislodge as many nymphs as possible. Light accessible infestations can be removed by hand or by a strong water spray.

Spittlebug infestation.

Spittlebug infestation.

3. Row covers: Spittlebugs are fond of grasses, so when nearby hay fields are cut, make sure to cover your susceptible garden plants with a floating row cover.

4. Homemade spray: A garlic or hot based organic homemade insecticide works well for spittlebugs. Using both garlic and peppers, you can do a double whammy on them! Puree peppers, garlic and water together. Let it sit for a day. Strain and mix in an organic liquid soap. Wipe the foam off your plants and spray this mixture. Always test a little of this mixture on a portion of the plant first to ensure that it will not harm it. Also, don’t apply such mixtures on a hot or sunny day, as the plant could burn and ultimately die.

5. Predatory insects: There isn’t any known effective natural control for spittlebugs but praying mantises prey on most insects that you would hate, so they would be your best bet. Order a case of them or attract them to your garden.

6. Plant based oils: Use neem oil or a citrus based oil to control and prevent insect infestations. They usually act as feeding deterrents and help disrupt normal bug activity.

7. Organic insecticidal soap: Several organic insecticidal soaps are available in the market that help control and rid of spittlebugs along with several other pests, Insecticidal Soap Concentrate being one of them. This organic soap contains potassium salts of fatty acids which help break down insect outer shell and cause dehydration and loss of body fluids.

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