Small, seed-shaped jumping true bugs have a multitude of names, and several different lifestyles. Today, I’m going to focus on one that’s brightly colored as a nymph: a pine spittlebug in the genus Aphrophora.

(Side note for people who like words: The genus means “foam-maker.” Aphros is Greek for foam and -phora means “producer of.” The goddess Aphrodite, by the way, was thought to have been created from the foam of the sea.)

Spittlebugs are the creatures that make those foamy masses in the crooks of springtime plants. For one to three months, the nymphs suck out the sap of the plant, growing through four intermediate stages before becoming adults. 

The foam is not spit, it comes out their back ends. They mix the excretion of the plant juice with a glandular liquid to make the bubbles more durable. Flightless and defenseless, the froth keeps them hidden, moist, and more insulated. 

Spittlebugs grow up to be froghoppers. They tend to be stout, and they stand with their head proud, frog-like. On the other hand, leafhoppers, also called sharpshooters, are usually smaller and more slender, and they don’t make spittle as nymphs. They have a row of spines on their back set of legs, whereas froghoppers have just a few, more robust spurs. Unfortunately, the adult I saw a week or two ago wasn’t in the mood to show off its jumping legs. 

Nymphs of spittlebugs in the Aphrophora genus are red. I believe this one is a Douglas-fir spittlebug, because I found it under a stand of Douglas-firs at the Arboretum. However, I’ve read there are more than a dozen species and many of them have red nymphs. 

Adults take on the color of bird droppings as a way to appear distasteful. But they’re also able to jump to escape predators. In fact, they can leap up to two feet in the air.

BugGuide says this genus holds the known record for the number of individuals living in one foam home, with around 100 nymphs sharing a foot-long mass of bubbles.

Stay curious!

See more of Karen’s work here.


University of California info page:

WSU on the differences between leafhoppers and frog hoppers:

Spittlebug info from a Canadian gardener: