The Bug Box: Spittlebug

Purdue University

Clemson University

This bug is creeping around your property. He may be friend or foe.

Name: Philaenus spumarius

Alias: Spittlebug. There are about 23,000 species of spittlebugs. They feed on a wide variety of plants. Adults are wedge-shaped, variously colored insects about 1/8 to 1/3 of an inch long. They can be confused with leafhoppers, but adult spittlebugs are larger and stockier. Adults are able to fly and jump readily. Eggs are laid in the summer and winter, but not necessarily on the host plant. In early spring, eggs hatch and larvae attach themselves to the host plant where they feed on the sap. It may take the entire day for the nymph to penetrate the plant and begin feeding. As feeding begins, they start to produce the typical spittle associated with these insects. The spittle bubbles are produced when the bug moves its body up and down in a billowing motion, causing it to secrete air and goo out of its anus that is produced from the sap of the plant. As the bubbles are formed, the spittle bug uses its hind legs to manipulate the bubbles around its body. The nymphs pass through five larval instars before becoming adults. The spittle protects the nymph from drying out and possibly from predators. The life cycle is completed in 40 to 52 days.

Crimes: Spittlebugs suck plant juices. For the most part, these insects are not a problem, although in high numbers they can cause damage to leaves and fruit spurs and by vectoring disease.

Redeeming Qualities: None known.

Sentence: A strong burst of water will dislodge them from the plants. Chemical control is seldom warranted. If you do experience large numbers and need to control them chemically, be sure to apply the pesticide before the spittle is formed.

For more information on dangerous and beneficial bugs, call agent Wayne Jones at the Bonneville County Extension Office at 208-529-1390.