Meadow Spittlebug
Philaenus spumarius (Linnaeus), Cercopidae, HEMIPTERA


Adult - The variably colored, leafhopper-like adult is about 6 mm long. Most commonly tan to brown, it also may be gray or mottled.

Egg - The white, oblong egg is about 1 mm long and becomes light brown just before hatching.

Nymph - The wingless nymph resembles the adult in shape but is slightly smaller. The first instar is orange; instars two through four are yellow; the last nymphal instar is pale green.


Distribution - The meadow spittlebug is widely distributed throughout Europe and North America. In the United States, it can be found along the Pacific Coast and from Louisiana to Minnesota eastward. Particularly a problem in humid regions, this pest causes extensive economic damage to legumes in the northeastern and north central states but rarely in North Carolina.

Host Plants - This general feeder infests over 400 species of plants. It is particularly injurious to alfalfa, red clover, wheat, oats, corn, and strawberries.

Damage - Nymphs and adults extract plant juices through their needle-like mouthparts. Unlike most sap-sucking insects, however, they do not cause the foliage to turn yellow. Most plants wilt and become stunted. On alfalfa, a rosetting of the terminal plant growth often occurs. A severe infestation (100 bugs/plant) of meadow spittlebugs may drastically reduce seed yields and lower hay production 25 to 50 percent. The hay that is harvested often is too wet to cure. Such an infestation is most likely to result after an unusually dry spring.

Life History - Meadow spittlebugs overwinter as egg masses between the leaf sheath and the stem. Located 8 to 15 cm above the ground, these masses of up to 30 eggs hatch from late March in North Carolina to early June in Maine. The nymphs seek sheltered, humid areas of plants. Once they begin feeding, the nymphs exude a white, frothy spittle mass which protects them from natural enemies and desiccation. The nymphs feed for a month or longer, depending on temperature, and finally develop into adults in late May or June. During the summer, adults feed on the crop upon which they developed. As the foliage dries out, adults migrate to new hosts. In late August or early September, females each begin to deposit 18 to 51 eggs on succulent plant tissue. Each mass consists of a row of 2 to 20 eggs lying side by side and glued together with a frothy cement. Meadow spittlebugs produce only one generation each year.


Meadow spittlebug infestations cannot be controlled the year they occur. Heavily infested fields (50 to 100 spittle masses/plant) should be sprayed in September to kill adults and thereby reduce the nymph population the following spring. A follow-up spray in the spring should be directed toward the young, unprotected nymphs. For specific information concerning timing, insecticides and rates, consult the current North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual.