You have probably seen the white foam on plants this time of year and wondered what it was. Well, if you dare, you can gently poke around in that foamy glob with a stick and find a critter called a spittlebug. Related to cicadas and aphids, the spittlebug has mouthparts suited for sucking plant juices. The feeding can cause distortion of growth of the plant, as seen here on this goldenrod plant. The insect leads a life of incomplete metamorphosis which means that it sheds its skin a number of times, growing larger each time, but does not undergo pupation. A spittlebug may molt around 5 times before it reaches its mature size, which will have wings. These wings grow large and larger under the skin until the last mold when they are freed for use so that the adult can fly off to find a mate. There are 23 kinds of spittlebugs in North America and over 800 kinds known to exist in the world. They make the spittle as a protective hiding place to defend themselves from predators. This foam is made as the bug swivels its tiny hind end, emitting a mixture of 'water waste', i.e., pee, from the end of its abdomen along with a glandular secretion that makes the liquid foam, sort of like soap, and into that mixture, it blows air from openings along the side of its abdomen. Sort of like being able to do a hula dance to mix up sweat from your armpit with your pee and lather it up with air from blowholes along your waistline. Imagine! No more running from mountain lions and wolves, just hunker down in place and wiggle up a protective confusing foam to hide in! If you look closely at my crummy photos you can see little pads on this guy's little feet that help it cling to the plant surface, and you can see the 'nozzle' at the tip of its rear end and you can see its eye and you can see the wing buds under the skin along its side.
Cute, ain't it?