Updated: 25 June 2021 (The original post was written 27 June 2012)
I’ve seen this creature’s work before, but only once in my garden, last June in a mat of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus. Usually, I’ve come across it on wildflowers while I’ve been out hiking. This year, the evidence is everywhere, however: gobs of white frothy stuff wedged in the stems of various perennials in my garden.
I’ve never bothered to identify the source of the yucky substance until now, but a quick glance inside the book Garden Bugs of Alberta (by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson – 2008, Lone Pine Publishing) tells me that my garden flowers have a case of a small insect called Philaenus spumarius (meadow spittlebug). Spittlebugs like to make Slurpees out of plant fluids, which they do by piercing holes in the stems of the victims. (Apparently they really go after strawberries and peas; I do grow alpine strawberries but I haven’t seen any signs of the bugs on them so far). The goopy white froth is made by the pests while they are in nymphal stage: it’s an appetizing combo of plant fluid, air bubbles, and bug mucus (is it breakfast-time as you read this? If so, I apologize). The froth is used as a protective blanket over the nymph so they can eat in comfort.
You don’t need to go the whole insecticidal soap route with them, as the goal is to remove the spittle and the eggs that the creatures may have laid, and blasting them with a jet of plain water will do the trick nicely. If you prefer and can handle the ick factor, you can handpick the eggs and nymphs off of the plants – wear a pair of gloves or use a cloth to wipe away the froth and squish the insects and eggs inside. The adult spittlebugs will feed on your plants after emerging and their eggs are capable of withstanding our cold winters, so eliminating the eggs is important. But…bear in mind that it takes a LOT of spittlebugs to do a huge amount of damage to your plants, so don’t panic too much when you spot this pest- it’s really one of the minor ones.
Have you ever had spittlebugs in your garden? What did you do to combat them?