Yes, it’s that time of year. Shiny, wet, white foam. Blobs of it. Sticking to stems of paintbrush and clover and young poplar shoots.
It’s the work of master bubble-makers — immature leaf hoppers.
These delicate bubbles provide the perfect home for baby beetles, known as nymphs. It protects them from predators (bad taste.) It keeps them at the right temperature (not too hot or too cold). And prevents them from drying out.
This isn’t your average mouth-made spit. Spit bugs (aka spittle bugs) use their needle-like mouthparts to pierce the plant stem and suck up sap. Mixed with air and some of the sappy material, this fluid is forced out the other end of their abdomen. They then use their legs to move it into position. Clever little guys.
The nymph grows and molts several times. The first photo below shows an empty nymph shell (aka exoskeleton) — an adult beetle may have emerged from that, then set off into the non-bubble world.
Shed case of immature spit bug. Notice other critters on the foam.
Spit bug on balsam poplar
Spit bug on clover
Spit bug on Indian paintbrush
Tortrix moth. Just resting or stuck in the bubbles?
Smaller foamy clumps may house only one or two nymphs, larger ones a dozen or more. Unless you grow crops or have an infestation on your favourite flowers they don’t do a lot of harm. Much more interesting to watch than waste.
For an incredible photo of a nymph “blowing” bubbles, check out this one by Canadian photographer Adrian Thysse.
Best guess? Don’t even have one for this tiny little guy. 🙂