Nature Notes

Vol. XII September, 1934 No. 9

The Spittlebug: Plant Pest of Mount Rainier

The Spittlebug

Everyone has noticed on the stems of plants white frothy masses of lather about the size of a thimble, but few, perhaps, have taken the trouble to investigate the nature of this foam. By pushing aside the mass it is possible to see a single, or often several soft-bodied insects crawling slowly along the plant stem back into their protective covering as though irritated at being exposed to the bright light of day. These are the "Spittlebugs" responsible for the foamy mass, and are so named because they suck up plant juices through punctures in the stem and after using the dissolved sugars for food, extrude the liquid mixed with air bubbles as a lathery chamber around their bodies. They belong to a group of plant-feeding insects characterized by sucking mouthparts (Order Hemoptera, Family Cercopidae.

During the winter the adult bugs hibernate in some dry protected place in the grass. With the coming of spring the adults mate and lay eggs on the leaf, or usually the stem, of a tender green plant. The eggs hatch into tiny miniatures of their parents called "nymphs", pale green in color, soft-bodied and defenseless. These immediately set about pumping amass of foam, and as they grow during the summer they shed their skins from time to time in order to increase in size. by autumn the bugs are about a quarter of an inch in length and have mottled brown skins of a tougher texture than the nymphs, enabling them to leave their home of dried foam and seek a crevice in which to spend the winter. But one generation occurs each year.

Though very commonly in evidence, few of this family are injurious; a rather strange fact when we consider the great variety of plants from which the insects are able to gain a living. Occasional twisted leaves may be noticed on shrubs of the Red Elderberry about Longmire Springs, a condition caused by several spittle bugs sucking juice at the base of an unfolding terminal bud. More often, however, the agents responsible for this type of damage are not spittlebugs but rather aphis (insects of the same order) or spiders. Food plants of the spittlebug observed in the vicinity of Longmire include the following Alnus rubra (Red Alder), Anaphalis margaritaceae (Pearly Everlasting), Claytonia lanceolata (Spring Beauty), Epilobium angustifolium (Fireweed), Gaultheria shallon (Salal), Geum macrophyllum (Yellow Avens), Pinus contorta (Lodgepole Pine), Populus trichocarpa (Black Cottownwood), Rubus sp., (Wild Blackberry), Salix sp. (Willow), Sambucus Gallicarpa (Red Elderberry), Stachys ciliata (Hedge Nettle), Trifolium repens (White Clover), Vaccinium ovatifolium (Huckleberry).

Victor Scheffer

(1) Local Species: Aphrophore permutata Uhler, The Rhubarb Spittlebug.
This is the first of a number of articles regarding the commonly noticed diseases and insects that attack the plants of The Mountain.
Reference: Essig, E.O. Insects of Western North America. (New York, Macmillan), pp. 1, 1035, 766 fig. Pages 471-472.)

curled leaflets of Red Elderberry foam mass on Pearly Everlasting
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