Spittlebugs

Spittlebugs make a frothy house on a leaf

Spittlebug nymphs quickly hide themselves in a cloak of foam and begin eating.

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director

Insects are capable of creating many fascinating structures to ensure their survival. Tent caterpillars are known for making a protective barrier out of web. Gall wasps use the tree itself to harbor their young.

Thankfully, honey bees make their hives out of honey, but some insects have less than pleasant means of constructing their abode. Your imagination may serve you well when wondering what a spittlebug uses to build its house.

Spittlebugs hide themselves, deceiving the casual observer, by excreting a frothy substance from their abdomen. This insect usually passes unobserved until the damage is noticed and they are sought to account.

Spittlebugs are present throughout the entire state and are most abundant in northern and northwestern Florida. The adult, Prosapia bicincta, feed on a wide variety of native and ornamental plants in Wakulla County.

Their propensity to attack turfgrass species is what commonly calls attention to their presence. Centipede grass is most susceptible to their damage, and this turf is commonly under stress due to soil conditions in coastal Florida not being favorable to this popular species of grass.

Adult two-lined spittlebugs are easy to identify if seen. They are about 1/4 inch long with black bodies, red eyes and legs, and have two orange stripes across their wings.

The mature spittlebugs are commonly active during early morning, but hide near the soil surface during the heat of the day. They are capable of a split second hop when a threatening situation is perceived.

The nymphs are yellow or creamy-white in color with a distinct brown head, but are rarely seen. They are cloaked by a mass of white frothy foam which they excrete for protection.

The foam has the appearance, at least to humans, of a projected expectoration or spittle from some uncouth trespasser. The opaque mass is not inviting and covers this insects hidden agenda.

During the nymph stage, this native pest is feeding on its plant host. Most spittle masses occur near the soil surface or in thatch making them observable, but only to those who are looking.

Some dried spittle masses may appear high on the host plant during adult’s emergence. High moisture and humid conditions favor their development and flourishing populations.

Spittlebug numbers tend to be higher during years with ample spring and summer rainfall, like 2015 so far. For homeowners and landscape managers, excessive thatch accumulation also favors spittlebug population explosion by providing an excellent incubation site for the nymphs.

There are usually two to three generations per year, depending on weather conditions. The life cycle requires about two and a half months. Eggs are laid in hollow grass stems or behind the leaf sheaths. The late season eggs overwinter and hatch the following spring, typically from late March to late April.

First generation adults are most abundant in June, with the adult population peaking again in August or September.

For more information about spittlebugs, view the EDIS publication, Two-lined Spittlebugs in Turfgrass.

To learn more about spittlebugs in Wakulla County, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco.

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