Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Spittle Bug Season

Spittle Bugs in the Ninebark Buds

Spittle Bugs in the Ninebark Buds

April is the start of spittle bug season in our garden. Spittle bugs are the little froghopper nymphs putting drips of saliva on a lot of our plants, a weird thing which I don’t particularly like, but find kind of intriguing. Apparently, the nymphs suck out the water in the xylem of the stems (as opposed to the more nutrient-rich phloem that their aphid relatives and most other sucking insects prefer), and they need to process a lot of watery stuff from the xylem to get enough nutrients; at some point these unappealing spittle cocoons evolved as a protective byproduct of all that excess water.

The nymphs like new growth and especially bloom stalks, and as April is our biggest month for bloom stalks and new growth, April is also our biggest month for spittle bugs. As I understand it, the small orange nymphs are young nymphs, the yellow ones are older, and the larger greenish ones are in the last phase before they morph into adults. Most of ours are orange right now. We’ll have the nymphs for a month or two, and then later we’ll get the hoppy adults. Neither one seems to affect the plants much.

Close ups of spittle and a butterfly are below.

Salvia mellifera Green Carpet with Spit Bug

Salvia mellifera Green Carpet with a Spittle Bug

Black Barlow Columbine with Spittle

Black Barlow Columbine with a Spittle Bug

Another Black Barlow with Spittle Bug

Another Black Barlow with a Spittle Bug

And to balance insect photos, the appealing with the not-so-appealing, here’s a swallowtail on a prostanthera in one of the gardens we maintain. I think it’s an Anise Swallowtail, and the prostanthera is some kind of variegated one, though you can’t see the foliage beneath all those flowers. It’s quite the bloomer.

Swallowtail on Prostanthera

Swallowtail on Prostanthera


Variegated Prostanthera

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7 Responses to “Spittle Bug Season”

  1. April 4th, 2010 at 11:19 am

    lostlandscape (James) says:

    Aphids galore down here on some tasty plants, but no spittle bugs. Or maybe I’m just not particularly observant… The sage with the dangling spittle is a little disturbing. Ick.

    Some variegated plants look awful when they bloom, with the flowers clashing with the foliage. But the prostanthera seems to have that problem solved: just bloom so much you can’t see the leaves.

  2. April 4th, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    To me it seems the spittle bugs are always worst on the day of the garden tour. Usually, I don’t mind. They’re harmless, and who knows who eats them. But you really don’t want them on tour day, and it seems as if I spent some time that morning cleaning up, even if I just did it the day before…I have them on lavender and salvias.

  3. April 4th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    ryan says:

    Sorry about the dangling spittle. Anita says it didn’t need to be quite so close up. I wonder if San Diego is too dry for the spittle bugs. They don’t like to dry out.

    I can imagine it would be annoying to have them on the plants during a garden tour. Hosing them off doesn’t seem to kill them the way it does with aphids, unfortunately.

  4. April 6th, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Barbara E says:

    Spittle bugs here in So. Pas. They are not great looking but your garden looks wonderful TM, so not to worry! (Notice how relaxed I am since I am not on tour this year.)

  5. June 5th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Ann says:

    such a great name. I have them and it looks like someone spit at the base of some of my plants. I never noticed them until this year. A bizarre looking insect too. Thanks for the great photos.

  6. July 12th, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Julie Hunt says:

    You have it wrong, you can`t suck out xylem, because it is the transportation system. Don`t want to be picky, l want people to listen, and you know one wronge word/typo and thet attack. Thanks for the info, lm always reading, sorry for typos im on my dumb phone tonit

  7. July 12th, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    ryan says:

    Right, they suck at the xylem, feeding off the water in it. Thanks for the correction, I clarified it..

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