View Full Version : Spittlebugs

Abhishek Jamalabad
19-07-2012, 06:35 PM
During the monsoons, one often finds a frothy white substance on plants. Many people (including I initially) at first sight believe this to be frog-spawn (foamy bunches of eggs laid by frogs). It is also commonly called "cuckoo spit", "frog spit", "snake spit" etc. owing to its appearance.

These are in fact "houses" made by the nymph (juvenile) of the Froghopper, a type of bug (family Cercopidae). The nymph, commonly called a "spittlebug" is rarely seen outside its house (unless of course the froth is separated). After hatching, it finds a suitable part of the plant, and starts building the house using an interesting method. Plant sap is sucked in and rapidly expelled through the anus, and simultaneously air is forced into the sap through the spiracles (breathing pores on the insect's body). This forms a dense frothy mass, called the spittle. The nymph stays inside the spittle house, feeding on plant sap using its piercing-and-sucking mouth parts.

The spittle house has three major functions-

It hides the nymph from sight
It protects the nymph from attacking predators, as the froth is said to have an acrid taste
It maintains optimum temperature and moisture conditions for the nymph's growth

Most froghopper nymphs I have seen are approx. 3-8mm long. There are several froghopper species, and each had a differently coloured nymph. The most common ones I have seen in the forests around Mumbai are off-white to pale green in colour and approx. 3mm long (probably Cosmoscarta sp.). The red one (pictured below) was found in Matheran, and guessing the length, it was about 8mm long (not sure about the species, I am trying to get it identified and will update this thread accordingly).

(The nymph was not disturbed in any way for the photograph; I found it as it is visible here with the posterior end sticking out of the spittle nest)
(Info courtesy- Indian Insects and Arachnids : A Concise Field Guide by Meenakshi Venkataraman)

Abhishek Jamalabad
19-07-2012, 06:51 PM
Not very sure as I have never definitely identified an adult, but going by external appearances, this seems to be an adult Froghopper. This one was about 12mm long.
Adult froghoppers are known to jump upto 70cm vertically, and at very high acceleration (upto 400 G forces), making it one of the highest and strongest jumpers with respect to body size in the animal kingdom.

Atul Sinai
20-07-2012, 09:19 AM
Very nicely documented Abhishek. Thanks for sharing this information !

Roopak Gangadharan
20-07-2012, 10:30 AM
Excellent peice of documentation and information Abhishek. The first pic puts it all in a nut shell.

There are so many wonders of nature around us and so much to learn. the insect world in particular. Thanks for sharing this. Infact would request you to put up someting like this every week or once in 2 weeks if possible... makes great reading and makes people aware of the wonders of the insect world.


Abhishek Jamalabad
20-07-2012, 10:52 AM
Thanks for reading, Roopak and Atul. Glad to know you find the "lesser" realm as fascinating as I do :).
Not much info can be found on Indian spittlebugs... would be great if our other macro-shooting members could document more about them.

Sabyasachi Patra
21-07-2012, 09:32 PM
Nice piece of information. Is there any specific tree species they prefer or any trees? In one patch how many of these did you find?

If you continue to write with images, we will be able to raise awareness among people. A lot of misconceptions will vanish. Hopefully people will not start hating and fearing these.


Abhishek Jamalabad
21-07-2012, 10:09 PM
The host plant would be species specific. Almost all are found on grasses and shrubs mostly less than a meter tall (at least in India). Some are said to be pests but I haven't come across this myself. Not sure about the population density...

Murugan Anantharaman
09-08-2012, 10:42 AM
Lovely piece of information on the spittlebugs especially the 'jhag' wala concept. Heard about this much earlier but not so much in detail. And I almost love the pocket dynamite, the froghopper.Should get a couple of these to train our Olympic hopefuls :).

Agree that such information can raise awareness amost people. I would also suggest that we have sessions like these on the 'field' especially when you are in mumbai next. Karnala would be a great place to start. I can to start with, try and manage to get a few kids/'sub-adults' on such trips and if things work out we can make it bigger and better. What do you think?

Abhishek Jamalabad
10-08-2012, 03:10 PM
Murugan, that would be great. Was thinking of contacting you but I was quite occupied during this trip and managed only one trip to Karnala. Will get in touch when I'm in Mumbai next.