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Evergreen spit

If you see a frothy, foamy mass among the needles it was put there by a spittlebug
Photo courtesy of Maine.gov

If you look closely at your evergreen trees this spring you might see what looks like frothy masses of spit in the branches. Unless somebody has an ax to grind with you, I’m willing to bet nobody spit on your tree. Nobody human, anyway.

Michael Wheeler is a county Extension agent with the University of Georgia. He says the spit-like substance is created by the aptly named spittlebug in its immature form.

"And it’s used to protect the bugs that are underneath that spittle, and keep them from being preyed upon by other insects, and also keeps them from drying out too much," he says.

Spittlebug eggs hatch in spring and the nymphs begin feeding on plant sap. As they feed, they continually excrete undigested sap. They pump air into it as it exits their back ends, forming the foamy masses around them. Spittlebugs aren’t considered a serious pest, but their secretions are just not a pleasant site to see.

Wheeler says to get rid of them, arm yourself with the garden hose.

"The best way to control them is just take water and splash the water onto the spittlebugs, on those masses, and just get rid of them that way. You can take a water hose and use a jet of water to spray them down," says Wheeler. "Chemical control’s not really necessary. There’s just not enough of them generally to warrant a chemical application."

The adults appear later in summer, and resemble leafhoppers with wings over their back and large eyes. They also feed on plant sap but don’t produce anything that resembles foamy espresso.

The bugs prefer pine trees but they can be found all frothed-up on a variety of plants including rose bushes, turf grass, legume forages, and herbaceous perennials.

Learn more about spittlebugs

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