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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.

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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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