The dogwood spittlebug is one of several species of this commonly recognized group of sap-feeding insects. Spittlebugs are familiar because of the frothy, wet mass of "spittle" that surrounds the nymphs as they feed on sap from their host plants. The spittle is produced by the immature stage of the insect (the nymph) and is a protection from natural enemies and desiccation.
The most common spittlebugs are the meadow spittlebug which feeds on a wide range of plants (alfalfa, clover, strawberries, and many others) and the pine spittlebugs occasionally seen on pine tree foliage. Feeding by spittlebugs may cause wilting and stunting on some plants, but damage to ornamental plants is limited. The greatest concern is the obnoxious appearance of the spittle. Many people are also distressed by being wetted when they inadvertently come in contact with the viscous mass of bubbles produced from the anus of an insect.
The dogwood spittlebug feeds only on dogwoods, blueberries and buckeye. Eggs spend the winter beneath the bark of twigs and hatch in late spring. The nymphs and their spittle masses are present in June and early July and are located in the junctions between stems or leaves and stems. Adult spittlebugs emerge in late July and feed on the same plants as the nymphs. Females lay eggs in punctures in the stems during the fall.
Although spittle masses of the dogwood spittlebug are conspicuous and often very numerous, otherwise healthy shrubs are not injured and control is not warranted. If you prefer to limit dogwood spittlebug populations, I suggest hosing the plants with a forceful stream of water from the garden hose. Special insecticide sprays will not be needed.
This article originally appeared in the June 30, 1995 issue, p. 97.