‘Snake Spit’ Is Actually From Spittlebugs

Spittlebugs Spit

Spittlebugs nymphs hide themselves quickly in a cloak of foam and begin eating turfgrass or whatever else is available. Photo by Les Harrison

Natural Wakulla by Les Harrison

Snakes have come down through history with a generally bad reputation. They collectively have been accused, and occasionally guilty, of a plethora of crimes and misdeeds

To start off, there was that issue with Adam and Eve. Then Cleopatra used one to permanently escape the wrath of Julius Caesar and the Roman legions.

Even in recent time, these reptiles have been accused of a hygienic misdemeanor, leaving evidence in the grassy lawns or Wakulla County residents. Foamy white “snake spit” appears even in the most sanitary of local lawn.

In reality the culprit is a native insect in a larval state, not a coldblooded expectorator which visited silently and unseen. Immature spittlebugs hide themselves this way as to deceive the casual observer and potential predator.

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 common in Wakulla County

Their propensity to attack turfgrass species is what commonly calls attention to their presence.  Centipede grass is the most susceptible to their damage, and this turf is commonly under stress because of soil conditions in coastal Florida not 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 a 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, as a projected expectoration or spittle from some uncouth trespasser. The opaque mass is not inviting and covers this insect’s 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 2017.  For home owners and landscape managers, excessive thatch accumulation also favors a 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. The spittlebugs will prosper as long as the disguise works, even if the snakes get the blame

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/.