Ohio and Tennessee are reporting above-normal incidences of spittlebugs, so Kentucky may experience that, too. Spittlebug is a name given to the immature stages of species of sap-feeding insects that produce and live within a frothy mass of their own making. The spittle is a mixture of plant juices, air bubbles, and insect secretions that form a protective refuge that shields the soft-bodied insects from dehydration, temperature extremes, and predators (Figure 1).
In many cases, there is minimal impact to plants from spittlebug feeding, such as tiny white spots where their mouthparts were inserted. Some species may cause stunting; occasionally the injected saliva may damage plant tissue (Figure 2).
The soft bodies of spittlebug nymphs should make them susceptible to many contact insecticides, including insecticidal soap. However, their frothy coating protects them. Hand picking or washing them off plants with a strong jet of water can reduce their damage.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist