Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Young Spittlebugs

Larval Spittlebug (c) John Ashley
Spittlebug larvae in foam on underside of a fern frond

Right now is just about the peak time to take a peek at some of my favorite insects, the Spittlebugs (family Cercopidae). The eggs that were laid last summer and survived the Montana winter have hatched out earlier this summer. Now our young Spittlebugs are growing up fast, moulting five times before becoming adults - when their common name will change to "Froghoppers."

Only the young Spittlebugs live in the familiar foamy homes of their own making. This juvenile stage only lasts about 50 days. After the last moult, the adult Froghoppers remain in foam until it's gone, about 10 days, then they head off to hook up with handsome mates.

There aren't any good Spittlebug or Froghopper field guides that I know of - or even bad ones. So identifying any of the 2500 identified species requires persistence. It helps that only about 67 species live in the U.S., with an unknown number native to Montana.  I've yet to meet anyone who specializes in Montana's Spittlebugs, so consider that an opportunity to become famous - at least among entomologists.

Larval Spittlebug (c) John Ashley
Spittlebug larvae close-up. Can you spot the eye?