Insects of the Week

Hey there, insect enthusiasts! This week, we’ll be talking about spittlebugs and ladybugs (also sometimes called ladybird or lady beetles), two groups of insects that are frequently observed in landscapes and gardens.

We’ll start by talking about spittlebugs (Clasirptora sp.), pictured below. Spittlebugs are true bugs in the insect order Hemiptera (suborder Homoptera), and use piercing sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap. The nymph stage of this insect is one that is often familiar, as gardeners sometimes spot what look like globs of human spittle stuck to the stems of plants in their landscapes or gardens. This “spittle” however, is actually a secretion created by the insect. The nymph stage of the spittlebug, after hatching from eggs laid by female adults on sheltered stems and leaves of host plants, secretes a fluid from its body and adds tiny air bubbles. The secretion, when finished, completely covers the nymph while it feeds and develops. Occupying this “spittle” provides the nymph with protection against predators and parasitoids (“spittle” pictured below on a geranium).

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“Spittle” on a geranium.

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Nymph stage found within spittle.

While both nymph (pictured above) and adult spittlebugs do use piercing, sucking mouthparts to feed on plant sap, they typically cause only aesthetic damage, and are easily washed off with a hose if they become unsightly. In most cases, the plants that you grow in your home or garden are in little danger if you notice a spittlebug or two.

The second group of insects we’ll talk about this week are the ladybugs, larval stage pictured below.

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We’ve been seeing a lot of ladybug larvae around the Station over the past couple of weeks. While nearly all gardeners are familiar with the widely noticed – and loved – adult stage of these beetles of the insect family Coccinellidae, many people are not familiar with the larval stage of the life cycle. This leads many home owners and gardeners to mistakenly kill or remove what is in fact the larval stage of one of their greatest insect allies, which is the reason that ladybugs are being featured on the blog this week. Ladybug larvae, like the adults, are mobile predators that feed on numerous garden pests using chewing mouthparts and are particularly known in our area for their extensive feeding on aphids.

Yellow to orange colored eggs are typically laid in small clusters by female adults in close proximity to a food source during the spring and summer months, often an aphid infested area of a plant. After hatching, larvae feed on insects for several weeks, pupate on a leaf or stem, and ultimately emerge as the familiar adults. The number of generations per year depends on the species of ladybug, but all follow this general pattern.

Regardless of the life stage you might find, make sure to give these guys plenty of respect in your garden! They’re working on your side, free of charge.

Thanks for reading! Keep tuning in every Monday, all summer long.

-Dave Schreiner, WMARS Intern