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May 27, 2003
Meadow spittlebugs are numerous in Illinois. Nymphs feed on stems of flowers, grasses, shrubs, and many other plants. They cover and protect themselves with white, frothy spittle exuded from the posterior of the nymph and then brushed up over the insect. The result is a spittle mass 1/4 to 1/2 inch across. Brushing spittle away reveals a flattened, green nymph 1/8 to 1/4 inch long. Although nymphs feed on plant sap, most infestations do not result in damage. If spittlebugs are very numerous, browning of the foliage may occur.

Adults emerge later in the season and are mottled brown, elongated, 1/4-inch insects resembling widened leafhoppers. They jump and fly when disturbed. They also feed on plant sap but rarely cause damage.

Pine spittlebugs occur on various species of pine and spruce. Nymphs produce masses of froth smilar to those of as the meadow spittlebug, but this nymph is brown. In its feeding, pine spittlebug causes localized necrosis where it feeds--seen as small brown spots in the wood if the bark is peeled back. Heavy infestations can kill twigs and branches. Adult pine spittlebugs look similar to adult meadow spittlebugs.

Control is usually aimed at the nymphs, but the spittle covers and protects them from insecticide. However, using spray pressure high enough to wash away the spittle exposes the nymphs. Cyfluthrin, sold as Tempo, as well as other contact insecticides, is effective. Forceful streams of water can usually knock the nymphs off of the plants, resulting in control without insecticides. This approach is particularly useful for pine spittlebug because it occurs on woody plants. To control meadow spittlebugs on herbaceous perennials and grasses, the stems may need supported to avoid their breakage by the water sprays.

Author: Phil Nixon


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