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.
- 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.
|Smaller than spittlebugs
|About 3/8 inch long
|Green or yellow
|Dark brown or black with orange stripes
|Slender and elongated
|Wedge-shaped with enlarged hind legs
|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
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
|Laid on stems and leaves of host plants
|Tiny, hard to see
|Produce foamy substance, feed on plant sap
|Ivory-colored with brown head
|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
Spittlebugs are known to feed on various garden plants, such as:
- Ornamental grasses
These pests pierce the plant stems and suck out the juices, which can damage the plants.
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
|Roses, Strawberries, Clover
|Plant stem damage
|Pine trees, Hollies
|Twigs and stem damage
|Lawn and Grasses
|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
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.
- Environmentally friendly
- No harmful chemicals
- Encourages garden biodiversity
- Requires regular monitoring
- May take more time to see effects
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.
- Fast results
- Targets spittlebugs specifically
- Wide range of products available
- Use of chemicals
- May harm non-target organisms
Neem oil vs Organic pesticide vs Pyrethroid insecticide
|Speed of results
|Slow to moderate
|Slow to moderate
|Ease of use
By employing these non-chemical and chemical methods, you can control and prevent spittlebug infestations, ensuring that your plants stay healthy and damage-free.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Rain-Tree Bug nymphs from South Africa
Location: South Africa, Gauteng
October 30, 2010 6:07 pm
Found this in a big tree with yellow flowers. They have been there for the last 3 weeks and did not change in that time
We wish you had provided additional information. We would really love to know the size of these creatures and the identity of the plant species might also prove very helpful. The closest we have seen to anything like this are the Spittlebugs in the family Cercopidae. Here is an image from BugGuide. There are many North American species and they are small insects. The immature nymphs form a mass of spittle that they use for protection, and they are occasionally found in groupings with their siblings. Spittlebugs feed on the fluids from the plants which they extract with their sucking mouthparts. According to BugGuide: “nymphs surround themselves with a frothy mass that resembles spittle” and “The ‘spittle’ is derived from a fluid voided from the anus and from a mucilaginous substance excreted by epidermal glands.” Based on this information, we will attempt to provide you with a species identification, but we would appreciate any additional information you are able to provide to us. We are not certain if there are other Free-Living Hemipterans in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha that exhibit a similar habit with the immature phase, but that is also a possibility.
Immediate Update: Moments after posting, we did a search of Spittlebugs South Africa and we found the Fieldguide to Insects of South Africa Google books by Mike Picker, Charles Griffiths and Alan Weaving which includes the following description of the Rain-Tree Bug or Tipuana Spittle Bug, Ptyelus grossus: “Identification: Large (wingspan 30-35 mm), with slate grey wings, marked with 2 large cream and orange spots and smaller cream dots. Nymphs (4A) black with fine cream hieroglyphic-type markings and central orange stripe. Biology: Well known for the phenomenon of ‘rain-trees’, produced by the constant dripping of processed tree sap through the bodies of clusters of nymphs and adults.” The Google Book also contains an image of a solitary nymph outside of the spittle mass. Wikipedia Commons has a matching image of the nymphs. We are unable to locate any additional information on this species.
Update October 19, 2015
In researching a new comment, we did more research and we learned this on the Flora of Zimbabwe site: “The spittle bug, Ptyelus grossus, is common in Zimbabwe and occurs in large numbers on the rain tree Philenoptera violacea but are also found on other trees like Tipuana tipu and Rauvolfia caffra. The spittle bug feeds on the sap of the plant by piercing the bark of the tree with their stylets (sucking mouthparts) and sucking the sap at great speed. The plant sap is a weak solution of sugars and salts and the insect has to consume a great deal in order to obtain sufficient nourishment, so they eject almost pure water equally fast. This drips from the tree in sufficient quantities to form pools on the ground below and infested trees have acquired the name ‘rain tree’.”
Letter 2 – Spitting Spider
Subject: Spitting Spider
Location: Simpsonville, SC
April 1, 2017 11:59 am
I found this fascinating little arachnid in the corner of the door frame of an exterior door. I am certain it is a spitting spider of the genus Scytodes, but I have been unable to ascertain the species. I checked Bugguide.net, but neither of the two species they have identified seem to be a great match.
I went ahead and remove one of the spiders from the nest to take some pictures, but it was safely returned, hopefully unharmed. Let me know if you need any other picture from other angles to help identify this critter. I took plenty.
Thank you for your help,
Signature: A Biology Student
Dear Biology Student,
We do not have the necessary skills to identify this Spitting Spider in the genus Scytodes to the species level, but perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide assistance. We agree with your genus identification and the images you provided document the BugGuide identification information: “Spitting spiders have 6 eyes and are slow moving. They are usually fairly easy to identify by their large round cephalothorax and their long, thin legs.” The eye pattern appears to match. While BugGuide only pictures two species, the site does state: “There is only one genus, Scytodes. There are six species known in the US. Five of them are dorothea, fusca, thoracica, univittata, zapatana.” Your individual is not too dissimilar from this individual pictured on BugGuide but only identified to the genus level. According to Spiders.Us: “In North America, this species is almost exclusively found in and around homes and other buildings. They are mainly nocturnal, so finding them in cellars, closets, and dark corners is commonplace. They can sometimes be found outdoors under rocks or within leaf litter in close proximity to homes, as well.” It is also worth noting that Spiders.Us disagrees with BugGuide with the number of North American species in stating: “In addition to Scytodes thoracica, there are at least eight other described species of ‘Spitting Spider’ that have been collected in the United States; some may be endemic to the southern states, others may be synanthropic and were introduced from Central and South America via commerce.”
Letter 3 – Spitting Spider
Subject: Some pics to share!
Location: IN USA
July 16, 2017 6:15 pm
Hello Bug Peeps! I thought I’d share some really lovely shots I got of some awesome specimens! You are probably the only people who will appreciate them, heh. The first two are spiders but the final one of a beetle was the best shot of all!
The second is a much better photo of a really pretty spider hanging out on my bathroom wall in Indiana USA. I looked it up and it is a spitting spider and spits a mixture of webbing and venom on its victims, so basically what Spiderman does but also poison which I think is very clever. I like the spots on the legs. I keep my fingers crossed that it will catch and eat the stupid fruit flies that keep getting in my garbage- they fly at my eyes and are annoying.
Thanks for sending in your image of a Spitting Spider in the family Scytodidae. Alas, we cannot currently link to BugGuide, but we did find some images on Spiderz Rule! where it states: “It is called the ‘Spitting Spider’ because it spits a poisonous sticky substance over its prey. Its body size ranges between 3 and 6 mm. They catch their prey by spitting a fluid that immobilizes it by congealing on contact into a venomous and sticky mass. They can be observed swaying from side to side, in order to cover the prey in a crisscrossed “Z” pattern; each of two pores in the chelicerae emits half of the pattern. The spider usually strikes from a distance of 10-20mm and the whole attack sequence is over in a little under 1/700th of second. It is a slow hunter and seems to use special long hearing hairs on its legs to locate its prey. It hunts at night and moves slowly towards its prey. When it is about 10mm away, it stops and carefully measures the distance with one front leg. Then it squeezes the back of its body together and spits two poisonous silk threads in one six-hundredth of a second, in a zigzag manner over the victim. The prey is immediately immobilized. If the prey is big, the spider spits several times. “
Letter 4 – Spittle Bug
Can you please help me identify this bug in my lawn. It looks like a flying beetle and I need to know if it is going to cause problems. Please let me know if you cannot see the pictures.
You have a species of Spittle Bug which we identified on Bug Guide as Prosapia bicincta. The nymphs are often found sucking the juices from plants while under the protection of a mass of frothy bubbles exuded from the anus. Another common name is Frog Hopper. They are injurious.
Letter 5 – Spittle from a Spittlebug
I’m looking to identify what type of spider lives in this foamy mess.
July 16, 2009
I went on a hike the other day and along the trail, I saw this white foamy substance under most of the plant leaves. Parts of the trail looked like it was just covered with it. My father said that he had seen the same spit-like goo on deer grass in another part of the county. We asked a ranger what it was, and she told us that there are spiders lying in each glob. Content with that answer we drove home. When I got home, I suddenly realized that I didn’t ask the type of spider and it drove me crazy! It’s too far to drive back there! Yesterday, I went on a run on the trail near our house which goes along the beach, and the same stuff was there, this time I caught a picture! Is there any chance you know what’s going on with this all? I’m dying of curiosity!
Northern California, Humboldt County, McKinleyville
The ranger spoke in error. There is no spider in the center of the spittle. There is an immature Spittlebug in the center of the spittle. Spittlebugs are leafhopper-like insects in the family Cercopidae, and according to BugGuide, there are 67 North American species in 9 genera. BugGuide also indicates: “After the nymph molts for the final time, the resulting adult insect leaves the mass of “spittle” and moves about actively. The “spittle” is derived from a fluid voided from the anus and from a mucilaginous substance excreted by epidermal glands. Spittlebug nymphs wander away from their spittle masses, and either start new ones, or enter those of other nymphs. Aphrophora nymphs hold the record, of one spittle mass over a foot long containing about 100 individuals! (Comment by Andy Hamilton).“