Odd Spittlebug on Hackberry

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During Wednesday's diagnostic walk-about in Shawnee Lookout - Great Parks of Hamilton County, Kathy Smith (OSU Extension Program Director - Forestry), spotted an unusual spittlebug on common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).  The spittlebug nymphs were confined to the stems of the fruit (drupe); we could find none feeding anywhere else on two heavily infested trees.

 

Hackberry Spittlebug

 

I have never seen this spittlebug before and after doing a cursory web search, it appears this may be an undescribed species belonging to the family Clastopteridae; possibly in the genus Clastoptera.  Most of our more common spittlebugs belong to the family Cercopidae.  Based on past observations, members of this genus, such as the pecan spittlebug (C. achatina) and dogwood spittlebug (C. proteus), produce "spittle" this is very sticky and highly viscous.  This was certainly the case for the "hackberry spittlebug."  Of course, spittle consistency is not part of the taxonomy and may simply be associated with the host plant.

 

Hackberry Spittlebug

 

Spittlebugs are actually nymphs; they grow up to become froghoppers.  The nymphs insert their piercing-sucking mouthparts into phloem vessels to extract amino acids dissolved in the sugary plant sap.  The nymphs discharge excess sap from their anus and create their frothy masses by pumping air into the sugary, sticky liquid.  Dave Shetlar (OSU Entomology) has long contended "anal bumble bugs" would be a more appropriate name for these insects.

 

The nymphs can be found embedded within their frothy mass with the foamy "spittle" serving several functions including protecting them from predators and parasitoids.  Most types of spittlebugs cause little harm to their hosts through their feeding activity.  However, some spittlebugs have been shown to vector various plant pathogens.