The Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) aka “Foam Lover”

Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius)
Zylstra Lake Preserve, San Juan Island, WA 9-7-19

I took this photo of a Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) on September 7, 2019 when I attended the San Juan County Land Bank’s open house at the new Zylstra Lake Preserve http://sjclandbank.org/zylstra-lake-preserve-san-juan-island/ . It was a bit cloudy, but fortunately it didn’t rain during the event.

While there weren’t many insects out and about, I was happy to get a shot of the adult version of this species. It was hanging out with some family members on the stem of a thistle growing alongside the walking path.

Meadow Spittlebugs on Thistle
Zylstra Lake Preserve
San Juan Island, WA
09-07-19

Spittlebugs are in the insect order Hemiptera and the family Cercopidae (1). You might recognize these as the mystery bug that hides as a nymph inside a frothy dollop of bubbles on stems of vegetation. This particular species is widespread in North America and very common in the Pacific Northwest (1). So, if you’re out for a walk in the springtime, you’ll see lots of vegetation that appears to have wads of spit stuck to it…and the tiny meadow nymph is hiding inside!

The Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) is also known as the Common Froghopper and it does indeed look very frog like to me. 🐸 Even more interesting, a Google search of the etymology of this little bug’s name yielded this (from Wikipedia):

“The genus name Philaenus comes from the Greek philein (“love”), while the species name spumarius is from the Latin spuma (“sparkling”), referred to the foam nests; the binomial Philaenus spumarius can be translated as “foam lover.”

The adult spittlebug is small (approximately 6mm in length). Both adults and nymphs (which go through 5 instars or developmental stages before reaching adulthood) feed on plant xylem and have been found to feed on over 450 species of plants (2,3,4). While they have the ability to transmit viruses and cause damage to plants from feeding, they are typically not considered serious pests unless they are present in large numbers. It was interesting to learn that the nymphs consume up to 280 times their own weight of plant sap in 24 hours (2,3,4).

Also interesting is that only the soft-bodied nymphs live in the foam. It provides them with protection from predation and from drying out (desiccation). The spittle is a fluid produced from their anus and combined with a surfactant secreted by epidermal glands near the end of their abdomen. Caudal appendages on the insect create air bubbles, turning the spittle into a frothy foam. The tiny (1/4″ long) spittlebug nymph usually rests on the plant facing downward. When the spittle is produced, it flows downward over the body and covers the nymph, concealing it and providing it with the moist habitat it requires as it develops (4).

Another interesting bit about the Meadow Spittlebug is that it is quite polymorphic with no less than 16 adult color forms (1). Andy Hamilton (2006) has contributed a wonderful chart, shared on Bugguide https://bugguide.net/node/view/72602 to illustrate the color varieties of the adult forms of this highly variable species (1, 2). Because of the diversity among adult specimens within this species, many researchers have been interested in Philaenus spumarius for genetic study (4).

Andy Hamilton 2006 ~ bugguide.net

*I wanted to include a personal observation about natural enemies of spittlebugs. Hamilton (1982) gives the most detailed account of these, but I didn’t note any mention of predation by yellow jackets (Hymenoptera: Vespidae), or dragonflies (2). I have observed both of these flying through meadow grasses appearing (but not confirmed) to glean spittlebugs from plants in early summer on San Juan Island.

References:

1. Bugguide.net https://bugguide.net/node/view/7452

2. Hamilton, K.G.A., 1982, The spittlebugs of Canada: Homoptera: Cercopidae, Insects and Arachnids of Canada Handbook Series, 10, 102 http://esc-sec.ca/publications/aafc/

3. Horsfield, D., Evidence for xylem feeding by Philaenus spumarius(L.) (Homoptera: Cercopidae). Ent. Exp. Appl., 24: 95-99, 1978.

4. Yurtsever, Selcuk. (2000). On the meadow spittlebug Philaenus spumarius. Turkish Journal of Zoology. 24. 447-459.

Rough Stink Bug, Brochymena spp.

This is a quick post! I just wanted to share the stink bug nymph I found over the weekend (Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019). It’s a Rough Stink Bug nymph, in the genus Brochymena. I believe it’s Brochymena quadripustulata, the Four-humped Stink Bug. However, Brochymena sulcata and B. affinis are two other species found in our area so similar, they are difficult to distinguish.

Brochymena quadripustulata nymph

Often Brochymena stink bugs are confused with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys. These two species can be distinguished by the teeth on the outer edge of the pronoun found on Brochymena spp. and the lack of white rings on Brochymena spp. antennae. Great diagram here ~ http://www.stopbmsb.org/stink-bug-basics/look-alike-insects/%23nbsb

I’m not certain what the red spot is on the bug in my photo, but curiously, I found another photo on bugguide.net with a similar spot https://bugguide.net/node/view/1596719/bgimage . I wish I’d kept my specimen for further investigation, but let it go after taking a few photos. The quality of the photo when enlarged just isn’t good enough to determine if the spot is a parasite. My first thought was it sure looks like a honey bee varroa mite, but I haven’t found any literature describing mites on stink bugs. For the time being, it’s on my “shelf” of things to figure out.

References/Further Reading

https://webdoc.agsci.colostate.edu/bspm/Hexapoda%20(Insects)/Rough%20Stink%20Bugs.pdf

https://bugguide.net/node/view/156717

https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/shared/Documents/Publications/IPPM/StinkBugGuide.pdf

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    "BUGGING" YOU FROM FRIDAY HARBOR!

    I love beetles and keep bees! In my free time, I enjoy photography (mostly bugs) and documenting insect species found on San Juan Island. I have limited availability for local, onsite beekeeping consultation and hive inspection, honey bee removal/swarm collection as well as phone/skype consultation. Contact me at cynthiabrast@icloud.com Member Washington State Beekeepers Association

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