A splittlebug surprise.

Strolling down to test the water at Hurricane Creek Park, we noticed some foamy masses in the branches of a scotch pine tree.

“Spittlebugs,” mused Amy.

Having never seen a spittlebug, I stopped to snap a few blurry photos for later exploration.

Spittlebugs are the nymph form of froghoppers. And froghoppers earned their name because they have an incredible jumping range and their faces resemble those of frogs. In fact, NPR named the spittlebug “highest insect jumper”, outstripping even the flea in its leaping skills. The same physics involved in archery enables spittlebugs to “jump like an arrow”.

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. The nymphs pierce plants and suck sap causing very little damage, much of the filtered fluids go into the production of the froth, which has an acrid taste, deterring predators.

According to the New International Encyclopedia, the larvae and pupae of “froth-flies” (another neat name for these well-deserving nymphs) are found in a frothy exudation on plants and trees. This froth, often called “frog-spittle”, is composed of sap which the insect sucks up through its probiscis. The sap passes through the intestine and is emitted as a clear mass, into which the insect draws bubbles of air by means of its tail claspers, and thus makes foam. Once the bubbles have formed, spittlebugs use their hind legs to cover themselves with the froth. The ‘spittle’ serves multiple purposes.

  1. It shields the spittlebugs from predators
  2. It insulates them from temperature extremes
  3. It prevents the spittlebugs from dehydrating

All this spittlebug exploring created an imperative for lapbooking- which, of course, led me to create a few spittlebug learning materials. Enjoy them because they’re fun and as free as any spittlebugs you may find in a tree!

Spittlebug and froghopper pictures (PDF)
Includes a coloring page of froghopper.

Spittlebug booklet (PDF)
Includes images and questions.

MORE TO EXPLORE

Spittlebug information sheet (University of Minnesota)
Two-lined spittlebug (Texas A&M Extension)
Pine spittlebug fact sheet (Ohio State University)
Saratoga spittlebug (USDA Forest Service)
Pecan spittlebug fact sheet (LSU Extension)
Black and red froghopper (Tout un monde dans mon jardin)
“Spittlebug named highest insect jumper” (All Things Considered audio stream)
Cuckoo spit and froghoppers (Bug Blog)
Meadow spittlebug color varieties chart (Bug Guide)