Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 4, 2009

Bubble Wrap

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:07 pm

There are several general rules to follow when spit is involved. First, never spit into the wind. Secondly, never spit in public and third, never spit  -period!  Baseball players obviously do not adhere to the last two rules and those who are stupid enough to ignore the first deserve to be plastered. These are human laws, however. Breaking all three of these rules is an absolute necessity if you are a Froghopper. Better known as spittlebugs, these tiny insects are relatives of the cicada . As immatures, they spend all their time within the  protective blanket of bubbly white foam- they come of age within a spitball (see above).

In order to find a froghopper nymph you’ll need to push the foam off to the side. The froglet will be exposed next to the stem (see above).  Should you coax him out even further and force him out into the open, the little guy will reveal himself  to be very froglike in appearance (see below and here). Once the froghopper is out of the picture you are left to examine his juicy little house .

To be completely honest about it, spittlebug spittle is not really spittle. It is sapple. As a very young hatchlings, young froghoppers sink their little tube mouths into the tender flesh of plants and feed on the juicy sap. They excrete the extra fluid out their rear ends and froth it up with bubbles. Eventually the resulting spittle completely covers the little beast and hides it from the drying rays of the sun and the prying eyes of predators. They stay concealed within this bubble wrap as they advance through 5 instar stages until reaching maturity as fully winged and hoppy adults. Way back when, these moist clusters were labelled by country folk as “frog spit” since they appeared on the lower stems of moist meadow plants – about where you’d expect expectorating frogs to land a shot. Today, the secret behind these little structures is out and it appears they are more complicated than they seem.

 The spittle building material is slightly sticky because it is composed of fruit juice. Oddly enough, the bubbles do not pop or rupture as they are pushed around by your finger. They stay together as a cohesive unit due to the waxy secretions added by the nymph as it is excreted. These homes are very durable and some of them can last over a week without drying up. For a long time, going back to the frog spit days, people thought that the hopper whipped the sap into a froth by beating it with spirited movements of the abdomen. Further studies, however, showed that several rows of platelets on the underside of the abdomen act as bellows to pump air into the mix. A Froghopper sticks the tip of his abdomen out into air and fills the platelet folds with air. As the nymph withdraws the abdomen back down,  the air is squeezed out as a series of  perfect little bubbles.

Applying scientific facts to something as innocent as spittlebug foam is not a necessary activity, but it is a worthwhile one. Before you go ahead and share this new knowledge with someone else, however, don’t go straight to the facts. Be sure to scoop up a bit of the foam on the tip of your finger and declare it to be frog spit then point out the “little frog” that lives inside. Then, only then, come out with the real story of the froghopper and its natural bubble wrap.

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