In spring you may notice little masses of sticky, frothy bubbles, on various plants in your yard or garden.These white foam blobs are produced by the immatures, or nymphs, of spittlebugs, small insects related to aphids and other true bugs, in the order Hemiptera.
Of the 30+ species in North America, the meadow spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius, is one of the most common species in the Midwest.These small insects get their name from the globs of foamy “spit” they create along the stems of plants.
They produce the frothy mixture by mixing air with fluid excretions, but not out their mouth, so it technically isn’t spit.The immature bugs feed face down on the stem, and as excess sap is excreted out the anus, it is mixed with a substance secreted by epidermal glands that enhances surface viscosity and stabilizes the foam to make it last longer.
This mixture is forced out of the abdomen under pressure and as it is mixed with air, it forms bubbles.Some species can produce as many as 80 bubbles per minute.
The spittlebug moves its abdomen up and down and as the bubbles emerge, it reaches back with its legs and pulls the bubbles forward over its back.The foam serves a number of purposes, protecting the nymph from predators as well as providing insulation from temperature extremes and a low humidity environment so the tender nymph doesn’t desiccate.
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