Spittlebugs are closely related to aphids. Like aphids, spittlebugs rely on the nectar or sap of plant life for food. The two-lined spittlebug is the most common species though several exist in the United States. They are dark brown to black with two distinctive lines across their backs. These lines are orange to red. Other species include the Meadow spittlebug, the Dogwood spittlebug, the Saratoga spittlebug and the Diamondback spittlebug.
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Though spittlebugs look like a moth, they are really a close relative of the aphid or cicada. They are small, about 1/3 of an inch fully mature, and local infestations will easily reach hundreds to thousands if left untreated. Spittlebugs feed by extracting plant sap. A little bug shouldn’t be able to adversely affect a large plant and if spittlebugs were efficient feeders, this article probably wouldn’t be written. However, spittlebugs are extremely wasteful when they eat and this waste is what makes them such a damaging pest.
Spittlebugs lay eggs which will overwinter in harsh environments waiting patiently for spring. When the temperatures warm, eggs will hatch and the young will begin to feed. It takes 1-2 months for nymphs to mature and during the summer, adults will lay eggs every 2-4 weeks. In damp, humid conditions, populations will soar if left untreated. However, it is not easy to see spittlebug damage when it is wet and moist. It is during this time that they can lay hidden in the wet, healthy grass and remain unseen. But as soon as conditions dry and the local grass is put to the “health” test, spittlebug damage will show it’s impact.
Turf which has provided spittlebugs safe harborage will deteriorate rapidly when stressed. This is due to how spittlebugs feed. As mentioned before, spittlebugs feed on the sap of grass and other plants. If they only ate what they need most plants would barely notice any impact from local populations. However, spittlebugs feed in a rather unique way. Nymphs will huddle up close to one another and using their piercing mouthparts, puncture the plant stem on which they are feeding. Plant sap is then pumped out and through their bodies at an alarming rate.
This pumping action extracts a lot of sap which then accumulates around the group of spittlebugs as they feed. Since the sap is thick and gooey, it clings to the spittlebugs and forms a type of sap or “spittlemass” in which the nymphs thrive. This moist, sap membrane is both a food supply and a place of safe harborage for the nymphs. Predatory birds are more likely to overlook nymphs encased in the spittle; the mass provides a damp environment for the young vulnerable bugs so they can easily endure even the hottest of days. However, the grass cannot.
SPITTLEBUGS KILL GRASS
If left untreated, the impact of this feeding will result in dead turf. Though you may only see a few as you walk through your grass, it is very likely a lot more “activity” is happening down in the grass stems. It is here where the eggs will rest and nymphs will thrive. A closer look will usually reveal the spittle masses where spittlebug populations are most concentrated and if left untreated, the adults will forage to neighboring plants and shrubs. Hollies, azaleas, boxwoods and other low lying ground cover will become targets. The two striped spittlebug may be small in size but their numbers will cause a lot of damage so don’t ignore their presence.
Fortunately, spittlebug management is easy. Since they are nesting right there in the grass, they are easy targets. A good combination of liquid and granular material will knock them down and keep them down. In most situations, two applications will be needed to get local populations under control. For light infestations, liquid alone will probably do the trick and the best material to us is BIFEN. This active works great on spittlebugs and their nymphs.
Use SPREADER STICKER to insure you get uniform coverage of the plant. This is particularly important with spittlebugs since the young will be hiding down in the nap of the turf. We have a lot of SPRAYERS that can be used for the job with one of the Hose End styles being efficient to use since a lot of water is needed to get good coverage. Any of our Pump Sprayers will do the job too but if you have a lot of turf to treat, a larger capacity tank or spray system will make the job more manageable.
Spreader Sticker: http://www.bugspraycart.com/insecticide/additive/spreader-sticker
Pump Sprayer: http://www.bugspraycart.com/good/pump-sprayers
SPITTLEBUG CONTROL GRANULES
For severe infestations, it would be wise to put out some DELTAGUARD GRANULES first and then spray over the top with the Bifen. The granules will insure the spittlebugs don’t avoid the treatment by migrating down into the turf. Since they tend to do this during hot spells, granules may be needed to reach them anyway if they are already nesting down in the topsoil. Apply them with a good GRANULE SPREADER and you will be setting out a one-two punch that will quickly knock down any unwanted population. Followup in 2-4 weeks with another liquid application and apply the granules at least twice to insure they don’t return.
Spittlebugs are a significant threat to most any type of grass. Once established in your grass, they will forage to neighboring plants. Populations will grow and by the time the damage is noticeable, it will be a lot more extensive then immediately visible. To avoid this scenario, be sure and treat when they are first found. If you address the problem early enough, liquid treatments with the Bifen will knock them out. Once established and embedded, apply some of the Deltaguard Granules first and then spray over the top. Treat at least twice and monitor your grass the rest of the growing season to make sure they don’t return.
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