University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

That's Not Spit on That Plant!

June 10, 1999

Noticed what looks like spit on a variety of plants lately? That’s not actually spit, but the work of the spittlebug. Both the meadow spittlebug and pine spittlebug can be found in our area. A glob of what looks like white spit, called spittle, is the telltale sign of this insect.

If you carefully remove the spittle, you will find the insect inside. Spittlebug nymphs feed on plant sap and are protected by enclosing themselves in the frothy spittle, and may stay there for up to 7 weeks. Spittlebug adults are about 3/8 inch long, elongate to oval in shape, and usually some shade of brown. They will emerge from the spittle and look like a leafhopper.

Spittlebugs overwinter as eggs on the stem of the host plant. After hatching and feeding, nymphs secrete the frothy liquid and cover themselves. When the nymph has developed into the adult, it will emerge from the spittle.

Meadow spittlebugs may be found on many species of flowers, weeds, clover, arborvitae, and strawberries. Nymphs found in the froth will be green. Other than being unsightly, meadow spittlebug rarely occurs in large enough numbers to cause serious damage. Washing them off with a forceful stream of water is a control option. Keeping down weed populations near garden areas may help reduce numbers, particularly near strawberry plantings.

Pine spittlebug will feed on Scots, Austrian, and white pines; along with spruces and firs. Nymphs of pine spittlebug are brown. Heavy populations may be more of a serious problem, as sap flow can be reduced. In addition, wounds made by feeding can be entrance points for diplodia shoot blight disease. Diplodia is a fungus that can cause dieback of shoots on pines. Pine spittlebug can be controlled using insecticides such as acephate (Orthene), carbaryl (Sevin), or dimethoate (Cygon). A forceful spray may be required. Read and follow all label directions.

So next time you see the white foam of this insect, think of the clever way it is protecting itself. And if numbers are high, you may need to think of control measures.


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