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Frog-hoppers start life covered in ‘cuckoo spit’

Posted in Insects, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 30 July 2013

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This edited article about insects originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 354 published on 26 October 1968.

Looking for insects, picture, image, illustration

Children often see 'cuckoo spit' in fields filled with other insects, by Clive Uptton

Most people are familiar with the frothy fluid, known as “cuckoo spit”, which is seen on a great variety of plants in spring and summer.

If this fluid is closely examined, it will be found to contain a small, drab-coloured insect. This is the nymph (immature form) of a frog-hopper.

There are many species of frog-hopper, the commonest in Britain being Philaenus leucophthalmus. The adult is an active insect, often seen hopping or flying among bushes and trees. It gets the name “frog-hopper” from its squat, frog-like head, and its habit of jumping.

The nymph of the frog-hopper feeds on the sap of plants, and has to take in a great deal of fluid to supply it with the nourishment it needs. The excess water is passed out of the anus of the nymph and blown into bubbles by a stream of air which the nymph produces by pumping its telescopic tail in and out. The water is mixed with a waxy secretion produced by glands near the anus. This prevents the bubbles from bursting.

The fluid has a very definite purpose. It shelters the frog-hopper nymph from the heat of the sun, and from its enemies.

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