(The bubbly protection of the meadow spittlebug on a goldenrod stem)
Behold the meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius), a homopteran in the family Cercopidae.
What’s that you say? You only see frothy bubbles? Well, my friend, deep within that sputum-y layer is a xylem-sucking fiend, tapping into the nutrient-poor system plants use to transport liquids for food. Technically, those bubbles aren’t spit because they’re not formed using the mouth but rather, erm, the other end. Dig down through the flatulent rear-end madness, and what you will find is a young “froghopper” in its nymph stage.
Why all the spittle?
Turns out it’s not all that complex. This spittl-y shield works like the “brilliant pebbles” of our vaunted Strategic Defense Initiative were supposed to work (some would say even better), keeping predators at bay through a layer of insulating tiny bubbles that hide the nymphs from a world full of hurt while they grow. Furthermore, these bubbles give the froghopperitos a moist shield to prevent dessication, something the SDI never managed to work into its plan (perhaps they could have partnered with that lotion obsessed guy from Silence of the Lambs?).
In any case, the spittlebugs seem to be having a good year this year, and I’m finding them in nearly every patch of goldenrod around. How ’bout you?
UPDATE: check out the comments for some good revisions from Vasha–looks like the anti-dessication angle might not be all it’s cracked up to be…