How to Get Rid of Spittlebugs: Easy and Effective Solutions

folder_openHemiptera, Insecta
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Spittlebugs are often found in gardens, feasting on various plants and causing damage. These small insects are relatives of aphids and can be quite a nuisance for gardeners trying to maintain a healthy landscape. Don’t worry though, there are some simple and effective methods for dealing with these pests.

One way to deal with spittlebugs is by removing their food source. This can be achieved by getting rid of weeds near your garden, which the insects commonly feed on. Another method is to physically remove them by hand. You can also use a strong spray of water to dislodge the nymphs from the plants. Pesticides are not usually recommended, as the nymphs are often protected by their spittle masses.

In addition to these methods, keep your garden healthy and strong through proper watering, fertilization, and mowing practices. This will help your plants resist damage caused by spittlebugs and other pests.

Identifying Spittlebugs

Physical Characteristics

Spittlebugs, also known as froghoppers, belong to the family Cercopidae and are close relatives of leafhoppers1. The most common species is the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius).

  • Size: Adult spittlebugs are about 3/8 inch long2.
  • Color: They usually have a dark brown or black color with two orange stripes across their wings2.
  • Shape: Spittlebugs have a wedge-shaped body and enlarged hind legs3.
  • Other features: Adults exhibit distinct red eyes and legs, while nymphs are ivory-colored with brown heads2.

Plant Damage Signs

Spittlebugs are known for the distinctive foam or froth they produce when feeding on plant sap1. This froth, often called “spittle,” is a sign of their presence. Here are some common indicators of spittlebug infestation in your garden:

  • White frothy blobs on plant stems or leaves.
  • Nymphs living inside the spittle.
  • Visible sap loss on the plant.
  • Green foliage turning yellow or brown due to the feeding damage4.

Example: You may notice frothy blobs on stems of various plants such as goldenrod1, garden shrubs, and herbaceous perennials3.

Comparison:

Features Leafhoppers Spittlebugs
Size Smaller than spittlebugs About 3/8 inch long
Color Green or yellow Dark brown or black with orange stripes
Shape Slender and elongated Wedge-shaped with enlarged hind legs
Damage Signs Yellowing or curling leaves, leaf stippling Frothy blobs, sap loss, yellow or brown foliage

Spittlebug Life Cycle

Eggs and Nymphs

Spittlebugs, also known as froghoppers, start out as eggs laid on stems and leaves of host plants. Nymphs emerge from these eggs and immediately begin feeding on the plant’s sap to nurture their growth. To protect themselves, the nymphs produce a foamy substance, commonly called “spittle”, that acts as a natural barrier against predators and extreme temperatures.

Examples of host plants where spittlebugs can be commonly found include:

  • Ornamental grasses
  • Roses
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Clover
  • Strawberries
  • Herbs

Adults

Adult spittlebugs, particularly the two-lined spittlebug, feed on various ornamentals and even turfgrasses. Their appearance is distinct, usually dark brown or black with two orange stripes across their wings.

Life Cycle Comparison Table

Stage Features Characteristics
Eggs Laid on stems and leaves of host plants Tiny, hard to see
Nymphs Produce foamy substance, feed on plant sap Ivory-colored with brown head
Adults Continue feeding on ornamentals and turfgrasses, have wings to fly Dark brown or black with two orange stripes

Protecting your plants from spittlebugs involves regular checks, washing the nymphs off with a hose, and using targeted pesticides as a last resort. By understanding the life cycle of these pests, you can quickly identify and address potential infestations, ensuring a healthier ecosystem in your garden.

Commonly Affected Plants

Garden Plants

Spittlebugs are known to feed on various garden plants, such as:

  • Ornamental grasses
  • Roses
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Clover
  • Strawberries
  • Herbs

These pests pierce the plant stems and suck out the juices, which can damage the plants.

Trees

In addition to garden plants, spittlebugs can also infest trees and shrubs, feeding on their twigs and stems. Some examples include pine trees and hollies.

Lawn and Grasses

Spittlebugs can be quite troublesome in lawns, specifically affecting grasses like zoysiagrass. As they feed, they may cause a decline in the turf’s overall quality.

Affected Plant Type Examples Damage Caused
Garden Plants Roses, Strawberries, Clover Plant stem damage
Trees Pine trees, Hollies Twigs and stem damage
Lawn and Grasses Zoysiagrass Turf quality decline

Pros of spittlebugs:

  • Can break down weeds or other unwanted plants
  • Serve as a source of food for birds and other insects

Cons of spittlebugs:

  • Damage plant stems and suck out plant juices
  • Negatively affect the health and appearance of host plants

Controlling Spittlebug Infestations

Non-Chemical Methods

  • Physical removal: Inspect your plants regularly for signs of spittlebug infestations, such as frothy masses on stems and leaves. When you spot them, physically remove the nymphs by wiping away the foam with a cloth or spraying it away with a hose.
  • Optimizing garden care: Keep your garden tidy by removing leaf litter, garden debris, and excess thatch. This can reduce spittlebug populations by eliminating their hiding spots.
  • Beneficial predators: Encourage the presence of predatory insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, by incorporating plants like goldenrod, lavender, and junipers in your garden. These predators can help control spittlebug populations naturally.
  • Soapy water: Spray a mixture of liquid soap and water on affected plants. This can help deter adult spittlebugs and disrupt their development.

Pros:

  • Environmentally friendly
  • No harmful chemicals
  • Encourages garden biodiversity

Cons:

  • Requires regular monitoring
  • May take more time to see effects

Chemical Methods

  • Neem oil: Apply plant-based oil like neem oil to affected plants to repel adult spittlebugs and disrupt their life cycle.
  • Organic pesticides: Use garlic and hot pepper sprays for a gentle, yet powerful natural deterrent against spittlebugs.
  • Pyrethroid insecticides: If spittlebugs are causing significant damage, apply pyrethroid-based insecticides such as bifenthrin, permethrin, or cypermethrin. These chemicals are effective in controlling spittlebug infestations and are available in various formulations.

Pros:

  • Fast results
  • Targets spittlebugs specifically
  • Wide range of products available

Cons:

  • Use of chemicals
  • May harm non-target organisms

Neem oil vs Organic pesticide vs Pyrethroid insecticide

  Neem oil Organic pesticide Pyrethroid insecticide
Effectiveness Moderate Moderate High
Eco-friendliness High High Moderate
Speed of results Slow to moderate Slow to moderate Fast
Ease of use Easy Easy Easy

By employing these non-chemical and chemical methods, you can control and prevent spittlebug infestations, ensuring that your plants stay healthy and damage-free.

Bug Control Recommendation Tool

What type of pest are you dealing with?

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Do you require child/pet/garden safe treatments (organic)?

Are you willing to monitor and maintain the treatment yourself?


Footnotes

  1. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/spittlebugs/ 2 3
  2. https://extension.uga.edu/programs-services/landscape-pest-management/pests-turfgrass/spittlebugs.html 2 3
  3. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/two-lined-spittlebug/ 2
  4. https://extension.umd.edu/resource/spittlebugs-trees-and-shrubs

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Spittle Bugs

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16 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi! I have these bugs in the tree at my home and have been fascinated with their activities. The question I have is what happens next??? Do they mature and continue to live in this manner on the tree, or do they go through some sort of transformation?? Bit worried about this aspect??? Would like to know what to expect, as I’ve heard from a friend that they just disappear after awhile. I live in Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, South africa.
    They are also present in a large tree with yellow flowers but don’t know its name. Will try to find out.

    Reply
    • When they mature, they reproduce and die. Young will appear again the next season.

      Reply
    • Alwyn Greene
      June 15, 2021 8:23 am

      Hi Odette. I live in Port Alfred and have the same tree with yellow flowers which the “spittlebugs” love. Did you ever find out the name of the tree.

      Reply
  • Hi! I have these bugs in the tree at my home and have been fascinated with their activities. The question I have is what happens next??? Do they mature and continue to live in this manner on the tree, or do they go through some sort of transformation?? Bit worried about this aspect??? Would like to know what to expect, as I’ve heard from a friend that they just disappear after awhile. I live in Bathurst in the Eastern Cape, South africa.
    They are also present in a large tree with yellow flowers but don’t know its name. Will try to find out.

    Reply
  • Hi. I have been fascinated by this insect as every year I have them creating this “rain” from a tree in our garden. This year I paid more attention and noticed some butterflies eating from the , I think, opening in the branch that the bug had made. I have also seen what I thought was the large yellow beetle, that eats roses, but now realise they must be the spitting bugs. I would really like to know their cycle of life. Is this part of the mating game,do they lay eggs and then baby bugs hatch out or do they become a worm and then a bug? They do not seem to damage the tree so what do they eat? I have been watching them for a few weeks now and have been fascinated by the whole event. Kind regards Dawn

    Reply
  • I’ve found plenty of these bugs at work in a big tree which has yellow flowers pre-winter.
    The tree is the type that makes pods that when dropped looks like a helicopter propeller falling.
    Ive seen them only on one branch in this tree’and was wondering if this is an indigenous insect?

    Reply
    • It is our understanding that they are native to South Africa. We have no idea if they are indigenous to your vicinity as you did not provide a location.

      Reply
  • I’ve found plenty of these bugs at work in a big tree which has yellow flowers pre-winter.
    The tree is the type that makes pods that when dropped looks like a helicopter propeller falling.
    Ive seen them only on one branch in this tree’and was wondering if this is an indigenous insect?

    Reply
  • Just in case anybody wondered about the name, these animals are called spitting spiders because they capture their prey by spitting a mixture of silk and venom at them.

    Reply
  • The Biology Student
    April 4, 2017 12:02 pm

    Thank you so much for the time you spent looking for this information for me. I will have to send more identification requests to you.

    Reply
  • Rienie Denner
    May 20, 2020 11:52 am

    Hi, do you know whether there have been any reports of spittlebugs on Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) in South Africa?

    Reply
  • Hi there,
    Are these rain tree bugs seasonal And how do I get rid of them as they are above my washing lines.

    Reply
  • Hi we have two trees that infestation of these spitting bugs, is it a danger to other trees

    Reply

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