There are approximately 2500 spittlebug species worldwide (Deitz L. L. et. al., (2008)). Most of these live in the tropics with only about 60 species living in North America (Missouri Department of Conservation, (n.d.)). In Canada they are mostly found along the very southern end of the country.
The nymphs are referred to as spittlebugs because of the frothy, spittle-like substance they produce and cover themselves in. In actuality the substance is excreted from the anus (not the mouth). The insect feeds on a plant, by inserting its piecing mouth part, and sucking out the sugary fluids. They then excrete this excess fluid out their anus, after releasing a thick secretion from their abdominal glands into the mixture. At this point they blow air bubbles into the mixture through a special valve that is located on their abdomen. This spittle like substance protects the nymphs from predators and keeps them from drying out. The nymphs are wingless and have soft, elongated bodies that go through several instar stages. They can be pale yellow, green, tan or brown and may have markings or bands of different colour, depending on the species. Sometimes, several nymphs will live together, and create one large mass of spittle, to cover them all.
The adults are referred to as froghoppers because they resemble tiny frogs and are strong jumpers. They have triangular heads and are usually not any longer than 13mm (1/2″), but size varies according to species. They can be brown, grey, black or green usually with unique colour patterns. They resemble leaf hoppers and tree hoppers in that they are all small jumping insects with enlarged hind legs. However, froghoppers hind legs are fatter and have two distinguishing thorn-like spurs and a row of black-tipped spines on the outer edge of the tibia (the fourth, shin-like, leg segment from the body). They are able to jump about 2 feet straight up. In addition to being good jumpers they are also good fliers. Eggs are laid in plant material and overwinter. The eggs begin hatching in spring. There can be one or several generations, depending on the species, and location.
A Few Species Common to Canada
Meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) feed on a large variety of hosts (hundreds) particularly broad-leaved herbaceous plants. They are known to feed on many weeds, strawberries, grapes, alfalfa, clover, grains, legumes, corn, herbs, grasses, shrubs, trees, thistles and many other garden plants. They are known to vector Pierce’s Disease, a bacterial leaf scorch disease caused by the bacteria Xylella fastidiosa. In southern Canada the insect overwinters as eggs that begin hatching in late April to early May. The nymphs feed covered in spittle for about 5-8 weeks, on their preferred hosts, then become adults and fly or hop away to feed on other hosts, often different species. They return in the fall to lay their eggs in the host plants preferred by the nymphs. The nymphs at first are yellowish and about 0.3 cm (1/8 in.) long. As they mature, they grow to about 0.6 cm (1/4 in.) long and become light green in colour. The adults are yellowish-brown to dark brown or grey and mottled in brown, cream or black. Photo of adult
Pine spittlebug (Aphrophora parallela) can be a serious pest of eastern white pine. They also feed on other pine, fir, spruce and hemlock. The nymphs after hatching begin feeding on the tips of healthy twigs by puncturing the tissue with their sucking mouth parts and sucking out the plant’s juices. They periodically move about feeding on new tissues, working their way down the branch and building new spittle coverings, each time. The many feeding punctures cause the tips of the branch to begin dying back (flagging). By July they are ready to become adults and begin congregating on the main branches or trunk under large spittle masses. Once the adults arrive, they move out to the needles and continue feeding until the end of August, at which time they lay their yellow to purple eggs in rows on the needles. This insect is often a vector of a fungus, called Diplodia pini, which is usually responsible for much of the dieback. If populations are high for 2-3 years, the entire tree can die.
The nymphs are part dark brown and whitish. The adults are about 8 to 11 mm long and brown in colour with a distinctive diagonal whitish band across its back. Its forewings have whitish blotches and are heavily covered in tiny dark spots with black-barred veins. The sucking pump (face) has alternating light and dark stripes and is globular.
Dogwood spittlebug (CIastoptera proteus) feed on dogwoods, blueberries and other plants in the genus Vaccinium. The adults are dark brown to black with distinctive yellow markings including yellow stripes on the head, and a yellow patch on each forewing (although half the males do not have this wing marking). These hoppers are smaller than many species measuring about 6mm (¼”) in length. The nymphs have a dark abdomen and a light coloured band across the thorax area.
Diamond backed spittlebug (Lepyronia quadrangularis) feed on plants including grasses, trees, broad-leaved herbaceous plants and brambles. They are commonly found in weedy areas. The adults are tan in colour with a darker diamond pattern on the back. The nymphs are light green with a lighter coloured head that is followed by a dark band. Photo
Two-lined spittlebug (Prosapia bicincta) adults are dark brown to black with 2 orangish stripes across the wings and red eyes and legs. They feed on all turf grasses (especially Centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass), weeds, holly, asters and morning glory. The nymphs are yellow and often found on turf grasses in late spring. Photo
Sunflower spittlebug (CIastoptera xanthocephaIa) feed on sunflower and ragweed and some trees, shrubs, and
grasses. The adults are brown with forewings that have a unique black spot edged in white. The face may have a broad yellow band across it or be striped. There is a black area by the mouth and the pronotum is uniformly dark brown (Hamilton, K. G. A. (1982)). Photo
Alder spittlebug (Clastoptera obtusa) feed on speckled alder, grey birch, common witch-hazel, American hop, hornbeam, basswood, linden, horse chestnut, pine, paw paw, shagbark hickory, birch and others (Hamilton, K. G. A. (1982)). Adults are about 6 mm (1/4″) in length, varying shades of brown, (depending on species), with light and dark stripes across the crown of the head and front pronotum. On their fore wings they have a light coloured irregular band running diagonally across the middle. There are other unique markings towards the base of the wings. Legs are brown. Photo
Boreal spittlebug (Aphrophora gelida) feed on grapes, goldenrod, fireweed, pine, spruce, tamarack and Douglas fir. They are similar to the pine spittlebug in size and colouring with some reddish-brown or yellow-brown mixed in and a more blotchy, unique colour pattern. The wings are also narrower and the head shorter. The nymphs are reddish and black. Photo
Four-spotted spittlebug (Aphrophora quadrinotata) feed on grapes, grasses, and other herbaceous plants such as oak, poplar and speckled alder. The froghoppers measure about 6-9mm (1/4″-3/8″) and as the name suggests they have 2 whiteish spots on each forewing for a total of 4 spots. They are mottled in varying tones of brown. The nymphs are rather handsome with a dark band running across the middle of the body with whiteish spots, and a cream coloured head and bodies with dark markings (some have reddish-brown posterior). The legs are dark with white spots. Photo
Red cedar spittlebug (Clastoptera arborina) feed on eastern red cedar. Photo
Mountain-juniper spittlebug (Clastoptera doeringae) feed on rocky mountain juniper, or western red cedar. Photo
Spruce spittlebug (Aphrophora parcllella) feed mainly on white spruce and red spruce and occasionally black spruce, tamarack and eastern larch. Photo
Lined spittlebug Neophitaenus lineatus) feed mainly on a variety of grasses. Photo
Red-legged (or black) spittlebug (Prosapia ignipectus) feed on little bluestem. Photo
Photo credits: all photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.
Deitz L. L., Thompson V., Rakitov R. A., Dietrich C. H., Cryan J. R., and Alvarez P. A., (2008). Spittlebugs. Dr. Metcalf Collection. NC State University Libraries. https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/specialcollections/digital/metcalf/spittlebugs.html#:~:text=This%20superfamily%20embraces%20approximately%202500%20described%20species%20and,concealed%20from%20predators%20and%20protected%20from%20desiccation.%20Distribution
Hamilton, K. G. A. (1982). The spittlebugs of Canada (The Insects and arachnids of Canada, ISSN 0706-7313; pt. l0)
(Publication ; 1740)
Missouri Department of Conservation, (n.d.). Spittlebugs and Froghoppers. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/spittlebugs-froghoppers
Natural Resources Canada. (rev. 2015-08-04). Pine spittlebug. https://tidcf.nrcan.gc.ca/en/insects/factsheet/5701
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