February 8, 2021
Ben is away from the museum this week, so we're reaching into the archives for today's #BenInNature update presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust! The following post was originally published on May 19, 2020.
Have you ever been walking through tall grass and seen a mass of white foam clinging to a stalk? That's the work of the spittle bug, an insect belonging to the superfamily Cercopoidea. The nymphs of this family have an unusual habit; while they're feeding on plant juices that flow up from the roots and through the plant's xylem, they excrete liquid and use special breathing tubes to inject bubbles into the fluid, forming a foamy mass around the insect.
This foam has a variety of benefits. It conceals the nymph from predators (you'll note that I had to clear some of the foam away to take a photo of the nymph itself); it insulates the nymph from extreme temperatures; and it prevents the soft-bodied nymph from drying out.
Spittlebugs begin to appear in late April and early May and they reach maturity in five to eight weeks. The adults are known as "froghoppers" and resemble leafhoppers or treehoppers, depending on the species. They're capable of jumping up to 70 cm vertically; relative to their body weight, that's a more impressive jumping ability than a flea!
Most species of spittlebugs don't cause any serious damage to the plants they feed on, so don't worry if you find them in your garden.
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (www.cbtcares.com)
NATURE PHOTO IDENTIFICATIONS
If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!