Have some spit in your lawn?

I was sitting in my back yard yesterday and noticed a few black things clumsily landing and crawling through the grass around me. I picked one up and noticed that they were two-lined spittlebugs, Prosapia bicinta (Hemiptera: Cercopidae).

This was a surprise to me because adult spittlebugs aren’t reported to be active until June. They should all be eggs or nymphs this time of year.

Spittlebugs are  interesting both in their appearance and life history. Adults are black, with orange horizontal stripes, and blood-red eyes (image below).

twolined spittlebug3-Castner(Image credit: J.L. Castner)

They’re called spittlebugs because the nymphs produce a foamy ‘spittle’ (left image below) around themselves that protects them from predation. This spittle could be mistaken for some fresh spit someone contributed to your lawn as they walked their dog by. If you’re confident enough that it’s not spit, wipe away the foam and you’ll find a nymph feeding on the grass blade (right image below). Spittle typically begins to show up in March as the nymphs begin to actively feed.

(Image credit: J.L. Castner)

These insects are occasionally important pests of warm season turfgrass as well as some ornamental plants, and can require control if they reach large enough populations. Most often, though, they are present in small, harmless numbers. They are preyed upon by several generalist predators like ants, carabid beetles, big-eyed bugs, and spiders. St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass are reportedly more resistant, but like many of you, my lawn is St. Augustine, and supports at least a small population. For more information on the biology and management of these insects, check out this EDIS publication or this useful (and inexpensive) book with information about many insects around your home.

There has been some concern about how this abnormally warm winter will affect insect populations and associated plant damage this spring. It’s hard to say, and every pest may respond differently. However, this could be a sign of things to come.


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