June 22, 2006
Spittlebugs Showing up on Shrubs
If you have plants that have white, foam-looking spots on them, you probably have a spittle bug problem, according to Ron Smith, North Dakota State University Extension horticulturist.
Spittle bugs are closely related to leafhoppers, but look different because of the spittle mass the nymphs produce after they begin to feed.
“Spittlebugs produce the liquid for several reasons,” Smith says. “The foamlike covering protects the bugs from predators, keeps the bugs insulated from heat and cold, and keeps the bugs moist. Without the moisture, the bugs will dry out and die.”
Smith has received calls about the insects showing up on strawberry plants and variegated dogwood shrubs. Spittlebugs also are pests of grass plants and can at times be found on conifers, such as arborvitaes, pines and spruces.
“While their spittle appearance causes concern, their damage is usually minimal,” Smith says. “Spittlebugs can cause some stunting of new growth on woody plants. Many insecticides, such as Sevin, Malathion, Orthene and other products, can be used to control spittle bugs. Be sure to follow label directions.”
As the spittle mass is produced, the spittle bug uses its hind legs to move the mass around its body. If the spittle mass is pulled away, a green nymph will be visible, with its feeding stylet inserted into the stem of the plant. The bugs will become full-grown in a few weeks. The winged adults, which are dark brown or straw colored, fly to other plants to feed.
The adult lays eggs in the fall for hatching the following spring. There can be up to three generations born each year, depending on the species. It takes from 40 to 52 days for a spittle bug to complete its lifecycle.