The Froghopper or Spittlebug
Nature Bulletin No. 348-A June 7, 1969
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George w. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
THE FROGHOPPER OR SPITTLEBUG
With the coming of summer, mysterious blobs of snow-white froth
begin to appear on weeds, grasses, garden crops and other vegetation.
Later, hundreds of these foam blossoms dot the meadows and hillsides.
Each resembles a dab of soap suds or beaten egg white and feel
slippery between one's fingers. ' Examined closely, a small flat
greenish seed-like creature, with six slender legs and a broad head
having a pointed beak beneath, is found inside. Named Froghopper
because of his squatty froggy appearance, he is also called the
Spittlebug because his home looks like a fleck of saliva. In folklore
these little masses of froth are described as "frog spit", "snake spit",
"cuckoo spit", or the birthplace of horseflies.
The froghoppers, of which there are about 25 species in the United
States, belong to a large group of insects all of which have two pairs of
wings and feed exclusively on plant juices but otherwise exhibit an
amazing variety of weird shapes and queer habits. Among them we
find the Periodical Cicada or "17-year locust"; the tropical
Lanternflies, one of which has a huge head shaped like a peanut shell;
and the Treehoppers with their bizarre misshapen backs -- the
brownies of the insect world. Here, too, belong the Leafhoppers, often
having great beauty of color and pattern; the Aphids or Plant Lice
which have peculiar habits and a bewilderingly complicated life
history; and the Scale Insects which include not only those which
wreak havoc on fruit and shade trees but also the Shellac Insect of
India and the Cochineal Insect, of Mexico, which produces a beautiful
red dye-stuff. These are some of the remarkable relatives of the bubble
blower that builds a foam house.
In late spring the young froghopper hatches from an egg laid in plant
tissue the previous autumn. Creeping to some tender stem, he inserts
his sharp sucking beak and, head downward, begins to drink sap. Part
of this is used for food but the rest of it, mixed with waxy secretions
which make it a sort of natural soap, begins to flow from the tail and
down over his body in a glistening sticky sheath. As he twists and
squirms, tiny bubbles appear in this fluid and are spread all around
him. Soon he is entirely hidden in a mass of foam which may last a
week or more.
two thousand years, naturalists have puzzled over how these
bubbles are formed. Until recently, some thought that the froghopper
uses his tail like an eggbeater. It is now known that a double row of
plates, on the under side of the soft flexible abdomen, serves as a
bellows that blows bubbles of a uniform size. To make each one, his
tail reaches up to the surface of the liquid, fills the bellows with air
and then, withdrawn, blows out a bubble. The head-downward position
and a side-to-side motion combine to distribute the bubbles about him
as they are formed .
The exact use of this bubble bughouse is questionable Some think that
it is a protection against enemies and parasites; others, that it is a sort
of air conditioning arrangement; and some, that it is protection from
the sun. In any case, the young froghopper grows and molts several
times before he quits blowing bubbles Finally he passes through his
last molt and emerges as a grayish adult, about one-quarter inch long,
able to either hop or fly.
And so, while the spittlebugs are "forever blowing bubbles", we
suspend publication until September 13, when Bulletin No. 349-A will
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Update: June 2012