Spittlebug hunt: Help protect our trees!

24 May 2017

The IPSN, in collaboration with the UK’s Defra and botanic gardens and arboreta around the country, are running a survey to find out about the plants that spittlebugs live on. This call for information will help scientists and the government better protect our plants. The survey will run from May to June (2017), for information on how to participate please scroll to the bottom of this page.

If you are a botanic garden or arboreta in the UK please contact Ellie Barham to find out how to get invovled!

Spittle bugs

There are a number of spittlebugs (also known as froghoppers) that are native to the UK, including the common froghopper or meadow spittle bug (Philaenus spumarius) and Alder spittlebug or alder froghopper (Aphrophora alni). Nymphs (spittlebug young) develop in foam nests commonly called ‘cuckoo spit’ (as shown above) so, finding cuckoo spit can indicate that a tree species is a preferred place of the spittlebugs to live (a host).

Spittlebugs do not cause significant damage to plants, and many are native to this country; however they do have the potential to carry a disease which kills huge numbers of plants (including many iconic tree species).

Xylella fastidiosa

A bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa is not currently found in the UK, but the government and scientists wish to make sure they have as much information as they possibly can to better safeguard us from an outbreak.

X. fastidiosa colonises the xylem vessels of plants, xylem is responsible for the transport of water from the roots to the shoots. X. fastidiosa is causing significant mortality to olive trees (Olea spp.) in southern Italy and has been found on ornamental plants in Corsica, southern France and most recently Spain. It also has the potential to cause damage to a number of UK trees and garden plants, including oak (Quercus spp.), cherry (Prunus spp.), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Hebe spp. and Cistus spp.

For further information, there is a factsheet on Xylella fastidiosa on the Plant Health Portal

The survey

We’re asking people to collect information on what plants spittlebugs live on, known as host plants. We want you to look out for cuckoo spit (image) which is formed by young bugs (nymphs) during May and June.

Philaenus spumarius. Cuckoo spit (Forestry Commission, UK)

The UK’s Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) will use this information to provide measures aimed at preventing the disease getting into the UK. Alternatively if there is an outbreak of the disease, information will help to create appropriate management to control and manage it, or, preferably, eradicate it.

If you see cuckoo spit? Let us know and help protect plant life!

On twitter - use #Spittlebughunt (include a photo, the location and the plant name, either common or Latin)

Or feel free to send an email to Dominic Eyre (Defra) with the same information.