Spittle Bug: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Spittlebugs may not be a household name, but once you notice their presence, you’re likely to remember them. These fascinating little insects are best known for the frothy spittle mass they produce while feeding on plants like ornamental grasses, roses, chrysanthemums, clover, strawberries, herbs, and many other garden favorites ^[1]^.

As a gardener or nature enthusiast, understanding spittlebugs and their life cycle can help you better care for your plants. Adult spittlebugs, also known as froghoppers, are typically dark brown or black with a length of about 3/8 inch and two orange stripes across their wings ^[2]^. The nymphs, on the other hand, are ivory-colored with brown heads and can be found living inside the spittle or froth they create, hence their name.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to handle and enjoy the natural world around you. Keep an eye out for the distinctive frothy masses on your garden plants, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert in all things spittlebug!

Understanding Spittlebugs

Spittlebugs, also known as froghoppers, are small insects that belong to the family Cercopidae. They are closely related to leafhoppers, but there are some key differences between the two.

Nymphs and Adults

The life cycle of spittlebugs consists of three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Nymphs are the immature form of spittlebugs and are responsible for the production of a frothy spittle mass. This mass not only provides them with protection from predators but also assists in maintaining their moisture levels. On the other hand, adult spittlebugs, or froghoppers, are typically dark brown or black and possess two orange stripes on their wings, as seen in the Philaenus spumarius species.

Feeding Habits

Both nymphs and adults feed on plant juices by piercing the plant stems. While they don’t usually cause significant damage, spittlebugs might stipple leaves of various plants such as ornamental grasses, roses, herbs, and strawberries, to name a few examples from a UMN Extension article.

Managing Spittlebugs

If you notice spittle masses in your garden, don’t worry too much as these creatures are usually harmless to your plants. However, if you still feel the need to remove these insects, a simple method to consider is using a strong water spray to dislodge them.

Comparing Spittlebugs and Leafhoppers
Table 1:

Characteristic Spittlebugs Leafhoppers
Appearance Dark brown or black, orange stripes on wings Generally green or brown, smaller body size
Nymphs’ behavior Produce frothy spittle mass Don’t form spittle
Plant damage Might stipple leaves; relatively harmless Possibly transmit plant viruses, cause leaf curling

Now that you are familiar with spittlebugs, it’s important to remember that they are generally harmless to your plants and cause minimal damage, if any. Keep an eye out for these interesting insects in your garden to better understand their unique behaviors and characteristics.

Life Cycle of A Spittlebug

Egg Stage

In the initial stage of a spittlebug’s life, the females lay eggs that are usually hidden in plant crevices. These eggs need a safe and secure place to develop. Within a few weeks, they hatch into the next stage – nymphs.

Nymph Stage

Once the eggs hatch, they transform into nymphs. At this stage, the spittlebug is still not fully developed. Interestingly, these nymphs are found inside the spittle foam which gives them their name. The foam provides protection and moisture to the developing bugs.

Some features of nymphs are:

  • Found inside spittle foam
  • Known for their greenish or yellowish color
  • Undergo several molts during development

Adult Stage

As the nymphs grow and molt, they eventually reach the adult stage. Adult spittlebugs have a distinct appearance and possess an incredible leaping ability, which helps them escape threats.

Comparing nymphs and adults:

Nymphs Adults
Green or yellow color Brown or black with markings
Inside spittle foam No longer need spittle foam
Not fully developed wings Fully developed wings

As an adult, remember that your main focus is to reproduce and lay eggs to ensure the survival of the spittlebug species. Good luck in your spittlebug adventures!

Distinctive Features

Frothy Spittle

One of the most noticeable features of spittlebugs is the frothy spittle mass they produce while feeding on plants. This foam-like substance, also known as “cuckoo spit,” is secreted by the nymphs to protect themselves from predators and keep their bodies moist.

  • The spittle is sticky and frothy.
  • It can be found on various plants in your garden.

Coloration

Spittlebugs, both nymphs and adults, display different shades of colors like green, tan, brown, and yellow. The nymphs are usually pale yellow, green, or tan, while adults may vary in color. The variation in colors helps them blend in with their surroundings, making them less obvious to predators.

  • Nymphs – pale yellow, green, or tan
  • Adults – different shades of green, tan, brown, and yellow

Physical Abilities

A remarkable feature of spittlebugs is their jumping ability. They have strong hind legs, which allow them to jump great distances relative to their body size. When they feel threatened, they can quickly escape by hopping away from danger.

  • Spittlebugs can jump long distances.
  • Their strong hind legs provide the power to jump.

Remember, when you spot some frothy spittle on your garden plants, it’s likely a spittlebug hiding within. Pay attention to their distinctive coloration and impressive jumping abilities. By understanding these features, you can identify and learn more about these intriguing insects.

Spittlebugs and Plants

Spittlebugs are small insects known for producing a frothy spittle mass while feeding on plants. They can be spotted on various garden plants, such as ornamental grasses, roses, chrysanthemums, clover, strawberries, and herbs, as well as woody plants like junipers and pine trees12.

When spittlebug nymphs feed, they pierce the plant stems and suck the plant juices1. This usually doesn’t cause significant harm to annuals and perennials, but the feeding can sometimes lead to distorted and discolored leaves in certain plants like holly3.

Here are some plants commonly affected by spittlebugs:

  • Ornamental grasses
  • Roses
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Clover
  • Strawberries
  • Herbs
  • Junipers
  • Pine Trees

Although the meadow spittlebug is one of more than 30 species in North America, it is often found on goldenrod shoots4. To manage spittlebug populations, focus on eliminating plant debris and maintaining a clean garden environment.

In conclusion, spittlebugs are small insects that are mainly harmless to plants. However, it’s essential to keep an eye on them and maintain a clean garden to prevent any potential damage.

Damage Caused By Spittlebugs

Spittlebugs are small insects that can cause damage to your plants. When they feed on plant stems, they create a frothy, white substance known as spittle. The damage caused by spittlebugs varies, but it is usually not severe.

In cases of severe infestations, spittlebugs can cause leaf distortion, wilt, or discoloration. For example, Two-Lined Spittlebug damages holly leaves while feeding, leading to blotches on the underside of older leaves or wilt on young leaves 1(https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/two-lined-spittlebug/).

Here’s the impact spittlebugs can have on different plants:

  • Ornamental grasses: Wilting and yellowing of leaves.
  • Roses and chrysanthemums: Damage might not be as evident, but plants may show signs of stress.
  • Strawberries: Reduced fruit production or misshapen berries.
  • Herbs and clover: Visible damage to leaves, reducing their overall vigor.

Even though spittlebugs can feed on a variety of plants, their damage is usually not to the extent that it threatens the plants’ health 4(https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/spittlebugs). Fortunately, you can manage them with proper care and occasional intervention, ensuring your garden remains healthy and beautiful.

Controlling Spittlebugs

Natural Predators

Predators can help keep spittlebug populations in check. Some natural enemies of spittlebugs include:

  • Ladybugs
  • Lacewings
  • Ground beetles

These beneficial insects can be attracted to your garden by planting various flowers and providing a good habitat for them.

Mechanical Control

Mechanical control methods are non-chemical ways to manage spittlebugs in your garden. Examples include:

  • Hand-picking spittlebugs from infested plants
  • Removing weeds, which can harbor spittlebugs and their eggs
  • Washing off the spittle masses, along with the nymphs inside, using a strong stream of water

Organic Control Methods

Organic methods are natural and environmentally friendly ways to control spittlebugs. Some options are:

  • Neem oil: A natural pesticide that can help manage spittlebug populations
  • Insecticidal soap: A mild, biodegradable solution that can be applied to infested plants
  • Homemade spray: Create your own spittlebug repellent using garlic, hot peppers, and liquid soap

Always follow label instructions and test a small area of your plants before applying to the whole plant.

Chemical Control

In some cases, chemical control may be necessary to manage spittlebugs. Several insecticides are labeled for spittlebug control on turf and can be effective if applied correctly. Remember to:

  • Choose a labeled pesticide for spittlebugs
  • Follow all label directions
  • Apply with good coverage, ensuring that spray formulations are used over granular ones for better effectiveness

Keep in mind that chemical control should be a last resort, as it can have negative impacts on the environment and non-target organisms. Always try natural and organic methods first.

Conclusion

Spittlebugs are known for the frothy spittle mass they produce while feeding on various plants in your gardens. They might seem like a nuisance, however, they generally don’t cause significant harm to most plants. In this friendly guide, we’ve covered the important aspects of spittlebugs and how they affect your garden.

You’ll find that these little critters feed on a wide array of plants such as ornamental grasses, roses, chrysanthemums, clover, strawberries, and herbs, to name a few. Their nymphs pierce plant stems and suck on their juices, but don’t worry, as the damage they cause is usually minimal.

In case you come across spittlebugs in your garden, remember that dealing with them is simple. A hard water spray will assist in removing them from your beloved plants. Chemical insecticides aren’t always effective, due to the protective frothy covering that these bugs produce. Just keep an eye on your garden, and take action when necessary.

Hopefully, this concise yet informative guide has provided you with all the essential knowledge about spittlebugs. Now you can confidently tend to your garden, knowing how to spot and manage these small insects. Happy gardening!

Footnotes

  1. Spittlebugs in home gardens | UMN Extension 2 3

  2. Managing Pests in Gardens: Vegetables: Invertebrates—Spittlebugs

  3. Two-Lined Spittlebug | Home & Garden Information Center

  4. Spittlebugs – Wisconsin Horticulture 2

Reader Emails

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 – Spittlebug

 

Rosemary bush bug infestation
April 11, 2010
Came home today (4-11-10) to find my rosemary bush covered in these soapy, bubbly masses. Inside the bubbles are tiny beetle critters that are half black and half yellow. (front half is black, rear half is yellow) Crawling around the bush are all black ones. They are only a mm or 2 big. Although rosemary is supposed to repel mosquitos, mine houses a swarm of skeeters. Couldn’t find any mosquito stages that look like these. They have 6 legs and no wings-they sure can jump, though! Very oval shaped, no distinguishable head from the rear. Slow walkers. Tried to get pics but they are too small for my camera to focus. Kind of looks like the black/yellow ones are creating the bubbles. Included a somewhat visible pic of the plant with the soapy stuff. Also, the leaves of the rosemary seem to be getting a yellowy spotting, not their usual even-toned green. Could this be due to the bugs? What should I do about them? Any insight at all would be helpful. Thanks!!
Confused in California
Southern California

Spittle from Spittlebugs

Hi Rosemary,
This is spittle produced by a Spittlebug, a small leafhopper-like insect that produces a frothy mass from its anus as protection.  The immature Spittlebug does not leave the spittle mass, but the winged adult is more mobile.

Spittle from Spittlebug

Thank you so much for the information!  Sounds like they are basically harmless and this is a very hardy Rosemary so I’ll let the critters be.  Thanks again for your fast response!

Letter 2 – Spittlebg from South Africa

 

Subject: What’s this bug 🙂
Location: Humansdorp, Eastern Cape, South Africa
September 4, 2014 3:06 pm
Hi there. I am keen to find out what this is, found in the Eastern cape area – Humansdorp. Thanks. Natz
Signature: Natz the big big geek

Red Insect
Red Insect

Dear Natz the big big geek,
Even though the markings on the wings of this insect are quite unusual and distinctive, there isn’t enough detail for us to determine an order to begin searching for an identification.  We are posting your image and we hope to eventually be able to provide you with some identificaton.

Hi Daniel and Natz the big big geek:
This is a Spittlebug (Family Cercopidae), Rhinaulax analis. Common names appear to include Honeycombwing Spittlebug, Red Fynbos Spittlebug, or just Fynbos Spittlebug (it also comes in a yellow form). Most online images provide a tentative identification but the Field Guide to Insects of South Africa confirms the identification (pages 154 and 155. As far as I can tell it is endemic to South Africa and is common in Fynbos vegetation. Regards. Karl

Thanks for doing all this research Karl.  We suspected it was classified in the order Hemiptera.

Letter 3 – Spittle from a Spittlebug and Aphid

 

spittling spittles bugs
Based on comments on your site, I think this may be the work of spittle bugs of some sort…is that one of the bugs to the left of the spittle bubbles? Taken in Bowling Green, OH
John

Hi John,
You are correct. This is the foamy spittle from a Spittlebug. The spittle is secreted by the Spittlebug’s anus and it serves as a protective environment so the nymph can safely feed on plant sap. Adults are winged and look like Leafhoppers. They are sometimes called Froghoppers. BugGuide has additional information. The insect visible in your photograph is an Aphid.

Letter 4 – Spittlebug

 

What kind of bug is this and do we need to get rid of it? If so, how do we?
Jeffrey

Hi Jeffrey,
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 – Spittlebug

 

Moth, beetle, & spawn in southern Ontario
Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:44 PM
I have three bugs I’d like identified. All photos were taken today in my backyard (date is on the photos). I live in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada).
… 3)Spawn.jpg – This year almost all dandelion leafs and weeds in my area are covered in this foam with a small yellow slug-like bug in the center! Whenever I go to pick some greens for my Guinea Pigs my hands get covered in the stuff. This is the first year I’ve seen such a thing and they were even present at a park 50km away that I visited last week.
Help in identifying these 3 bugs would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you, Luke.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Spittlebug
Spittlebug

Hi Luke,
As we have already indicated, multiple unrelated species in the same letter is something we avoid posting, but we were really interested in sharing two of your images with our readership.  This is a nymph of an aptly named Spittlebug in the family Cercopidae a group of free living Hemipterans.   According to BugGuide:  “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). ”

Letter 6 – Spittlebug

 

Spittle Bugs
July 7, 2010
Dear Bug Man,
A few weeks ago I decided to find out what the clusters of white “spit” were all over the weeds on our farm.

Spittle from a Spittlebug

After gently poking a piece of straw into a ball of “spit”, a tiny little creature emerged with the face of a frog. I was thrilled to finally see the source of all that spittle and after a bit of research found out that it was a leaf hopper nymph! I thought you and others might enjoy seeing some of my photos of this tiny fellow.
Tracey Tilson
Marion, North Carolina

Spittlebug

Hi Tracey,
Thanks so much for providing such excellent documentation of a Spittlebug, both inside and out of its home of spittle.  Spittlebugs are in the family Cercopidae.  According to BugGuide:  “
nymphs surround themselves with a frothy mass that resembles spittle” and “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.”  Your photos are wonderful, but we have taken the liberty of cropping them to increase the size of the insects, and in doing so, we have cut off your Wet Knee Photography copyright mark.

Spittlebug

Hi Daniel!
I’m so happy you liked the photos of the leaf hopper nymph. It’s fine that the watermark was cropped off, as the subject of the photo is what your site is all about. I am fascinated by insects and have tons more photos to share with your site in the future.
Have a great week!
~Tracey Tilson

Letter 7 – Spittlebug

 

Subject: Tiny insect found on floor
Location: Ukiah, California
November 27, 2014 12:25 pm
I found this insect I believe to be a treehopper, but I am not too sure.I do not have the best of cameras, but I hope you can identify this.
Signature: I like bugs

Spittlebug
Spittlebug

In our opinion, this looks like a Spittlebug or Froghopper in the family Cercopidae.  According to BugGuide:  “Spittlebug: nymphs surround themselves with a frothy mass that resembles spittle.”  You may have noticed the spittle masses on plants in the area.

Letter 8 – Spittlebug

 

Subject: Weird small insect
Location: San Diego, CA
June 4, 2016 2:56 pm
This is my second time seeing one of these small insects. Both times I have found the bug positioned in the same way on the stem of a plant. The face resembles that of a leafhopper.
Signature: Elijah Otto

Spittlebug
Spittlebug

Dear Elijah,
This is an adult Spittlebug in the genus
Clastoptera, based on images posted to BugGuide.  We believe it looks most like Clastoptera lineatocollis based on this BugGuide image, but we would not rule out that it might be Clastoptera siskiyou based on this BugGuide image.  Spittlebugs are so called because the immature nymphs often feed by sucking on the fluids of plants while excreting a frothy protection that resembles spittle.  According to the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program site:  “Spittlebugs suck plant juices. Heavy infestations distort plant tissue and slow plant growth. The obvious and occasionally abundant masses of white foam on cones, foliage, or stems may be annoying, but the spittlebugs do not seriously harm established woody plants.”  We will be postdating this submission to go live to our site during our brief absence next week.

Letter 9 – Spittlebug

 

Subject: Bugs in Slime
Location: Delaware Ohio
June 7, 2016 6:33 pm
I would like to know if these little things are harmful or helpful. I’m guessing the first…and if so…how do I get rid of them?! They are in my red twig dogwood shrub, hidden in snotty white slime. Yuck. The close up of the bug is on a weed I pulled and used to dig through the snot. The picture of the bush shows the snot with bugs in it.
Signature: ready2kill

Spittlebug Spittle
Spittlebug Spittle

Dear ready2kill,
These free-living Hemipterans are known as Froghoppers or Spittlebugs.  The immature nymphs secrete a frothy substance that acts as protection while they are feeding by sucking juices from plants, so they are not considered beneficial insects.

Spittlebug
Spittlebug

Letter 10 – Spittlebug Spittle

 

foamy business
Bug man,
It’s spring time in Amsterdam, and I’m having some type of infestation on my small apple trees, Coriander, Mint, and parsley plants. I am hoping that this is something to to with Ladybugs, but I’m not quite sure. This foamy stuff, with larvae of some sort is on many of the plants, and the black and red insects are crawling about, though I belive those to actually be immature lady bugs. Can you identifiy this…and is it a problem….I hesitate to bring out the bug spray for fear of killing beneficial insects off. thanks!

This is actually the spittle formed by a Spittlebug. Spittlebugs, also known as Frog Hoppers, are in the Family Cercopidae. They are related to Aphids and Leaf Hoppers as well as other Hemipterans. Immature nymphs surround themselves with a foamy mass that resembles spittle while the suck the juices from the host plant.

Authors

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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3 thoughts on “Spittle Bug: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. I also have an infestation of spittlebugs and found out that the larva feeds off the juices of the plants. I don’t know what the mature spittlebug eats or if it is harmful to the garden plants. I sure would appreciate any info on these meadow spittlebugs.

    Reply
  2. Since they eat leaves, is it safe to assume that they are not poisonous? I have a little boy that loves to check out different bugs and hold them if it is safe.

    Reply

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