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The two-lined spittlebug, scientific name Prosapia bicincta, is a hemipteran insect similar to leafhoppers, but spittlebugs are in the sister family Cercopidae.  Two-lined spittlebugs occur in the eastern United States, from Maine to Florida (primarily northwestern Florida) and west to Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Adult spittlebugs are about 8–10 mm (3/8 inch) long and dark brown to black in color.  They usually have two brilliant red-orange lines crossing the wings, but sometimes are unbanded.  They hold their wings over the back of their body.  If disturbed, adults produce an unpleasant smelling chemical as a defense.  Their bright coloration pattern may be a warning that they are inedible.  Adults are most active in early morning and hide near the soil surface or in hollies and other shrubbery the rest of the day.  At night they become active, and may be attracted to lights. 

The nymphs (immature stage) look similar to the adults, but have pale (white, yellow or orange) bodies, brown heads, red eyes and no wings.  As nymphs age their coloration gets darker.  Nymphs camouflage themselves in a unique way, by living in foam nests that they make by blowing bubbles through their abdomen into plant juices.  The nest keeps the nymphs from drying out. Two-lined spittlebugs need a humid, moist environment, and cannot survive drought conditions.  There are more spittlebug nests in years with more rain, and also when there is more thatch available.  Nests usually occur near the soil surface or in thatch.  This may help hide larvae from wasps that can prey on them in their nests.  In their final immature stage, they larvae climb up the grass blade.  As they do, their bubble nest dries on them and they discard it with their molt.

Two-lined spittlebugs feed on many crops, ornamental plants, and weeds.  They are a pest species.  In many places damage is minimal, but in the southeast they are considered the most important pest of pasture grass.  Both adults and nymphs suck juices from plants with their piercing-sucking mouthparts, but it is the adult phase that causes damage.  In addition to grasses (their favorites are centipede grass, St. Augustine grass, and Bermuda grass), adults are partial especially to hollies (Ilex cassine or I. opaca).  They eat from the undersides of the leaves, leaving white patches where they suck the juices and simultaneously inject a poison that causes the plant to lose its clorophyll.  From within their spittle nest, nymphs suck juices from grass stems. They remove a lot of fluid from the plants for continued production of spittle.

There are several other common North American spittlebug species.  Prosapia bicincta might be confused with their similar sister species, P. ignipectus, but can be distinguished in adult form as P. ignipectus has a bright red ventral surface that shows especially when they fly.


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© Dana Campbell

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