Meadow spittlebug (Eleanor Raab)

Meadow Spittlebugs

Meadow spittlebug (Eleanor Raab)

Have you ever wondered what the little pockets of foam that appear along the trail in late spring and early summer are? Those are the frothy fortresses of the Meadow Spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius). The genus name Philaenus comes from the Greek word for love, while the species name spumarius comes from the Latin spuma meaning sparkling or foam. Their name essentially means foam lover!

Spittlebug nymphs create these foamy masses by excreting air from their abdomens into what is essentially their urine — the waste from the copious amounts of watery sap that they feed on. The spittle discourages predators and keeps the nymphs hydrated as they grow. The nymphs stay in their spittle nests until June, when they emerge as their adult form.  

Spittlebugs cannot survive in areas of low humidity, which is why they have historically been common in the coastal areas of California. However, its populations along the California coastline have declined in recent years, which is believed to be due to higher temperatures and lower humidity along the coast caused by climate change. 

Meadow spittlebug (Eleanor Raab)
Meadow spittlebug adult alongside a foam nest (Eleanor Raab)

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