Overcoming Nature

“Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put on this earth to overcome.”  So says Katherine Hepburn’s tart missionary in The African Queen.  I have this very much in mind lately as I try to overcome my bad attitude about the “reign of rain” we are experiencing in Connecticut the last month or so.  The fact that it shows no sign of abating isn’t helping one bit.  african queen

The weather is keeping me inside to some extent and I find it hard.  June is spittlebug season and I feel like I missed the whole thing.  Spittlebugs are manna from heaven if you like to gross out people who think they are actually spit. 

But there are so many spittlebugs, or frog hopper nymphs if you prefer, that meadows and grassy areas are full to the brim with them in June.  If there is someone in the world who can spit in such quantity, I want to meet him!  No one person nor ten could expect to expectorate enough to confuse the issue.    spittlebug

Spittlebugs are little arthropods with a straw-like mouthpart for living off the moisture of plants.   The immature frog hopper uses a little of the excess moisture and (get ready for it,) blows it out its hind end along with a little air to form the foamy mass that will hide it from predators and serve as its home while it grows.  Combined with some waxy enzymes the foam is pretty resilient.  So much so, that science is looking for ways to adapt it to things like sneakers and surgical glue. 

The frog hopper has wings, but they are barely worth a mention.  Their real claim to fame is as a jumper.  Rather than flying from stem to stem, they propel themselves at death-defying speeds using their rear legs.  If a man could jump with the same velocity, he would collapse from the force of the “g’s”.  The spittlebug takes it in stride, though.  The power he has is by no means death-defying to him.  He’s just getting around, propelling himself up to 120 times his body length.  

frog hopper

Like their cousins, the cicada and the aphid, a frog hopper can distort the look of a plant, but it is generally harmless.  For example, it won’t bite you at all if you try to coax it out of it’s spitty camouflage.  Just tease it gently out of the bubbles with the end of your finger and show it around.  When you’re finished, place it back near the stem on the same kind of plant you took it from.  Before too long, it will blow some more froth out and luxuriate in some slippery camouflage.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

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2 Responses to “Overcoming Nature”

  1. Natalie Says:

    Oh, cool. I was wondering what that spit like substance was. I see it all the time down by the pond in the field.

    • hillsteadnatureblog Says:

      At least you saw some! The other day was the only time I saw any at all, and that was just ONE! They are my favorites (what isn’t). Write anytime-it’s really nice to know that people are noticing and wondering about things. Cheers, Diane

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