Have you ever seen cuckoo spit? If you look at plants in springtime or the early part of summer you may well see a frothy substance. It’s called cuckoo spit but is, in fact, made by other creatures – the larvae of froghoppers.
Froghoppers aren’t amphibians – they’re actually insects (confusing, I know!). Froghopper larvae feed on the sap in plants. They eat far more of it than they need to sustain themselves but they’ve found another way to make use of it. Any excess sap is secreted from their bottoms and mixed with air to make the frothy cuckoo spit – think of it as a wet trump! This hides the larvae from any potential predators and helps to protect them from heat and cold.
Adult froghoppers also feed on sap, but they no longer make cuckoo spit. Instead they have another way of keeping themselves safe – they jump! Their leaps are quite a feat for an animal their size. A froghopper is just a few millimetres long but it can cover distances of up to 70 centimetres in a single bound. That’s like a human jumping 250 metres – Superman would be proud of that!
Unlike most sap-sucking insects (like greenfly for example) froghoppers don’t cause any real damage to plants. They are unpopular with many gardeners though, who find cuckoo spit unsightly. Personally I’d be happy to have them in my garden – the more varied the wildlife, the better it is for all species, and a little froth on my plants won’t bother me. If you do want to get rid of any you see then there is no need to use insecticide – simply rinse them off with a hose.
There are loads of froghopper species here in the UK, ranging in colour from black to white and from green to brown. But you are unlikely to see one – at least not for long. If you get too close it will disappear, jumping out of sight to safety. If your ears are very sensitive you might just hear it ‘click’ as it launches with more than 40 times the acceleration of a fighter jet!
I hope you enjoyed reading about froghoppers. They’re just one of the many species featured in the invertebrates section here at Nature Matters. Why not take a trip through our archives and see what other wonders you can uncover?