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Especially in spring and early summer, sapling pines (above) and grasses often look as if they have been spat upon by some human passerby. Instead, each glob of tiny bubbles was formed by a "spittlebug"--a quarter-inch-long larval insect that blows tiny mucilaginous bubbles from its rear orifice to build a nest. If you separate the bubbles, they feel a bit slippery to the touch, and in the middle of them you will find the nest-builder--nicely sheltered from attacks by birds and other predators that apparently are repelled by the frothy mass.

A spittlebug is a "true bug" (Hempiptera), with a long needle-like mouthpart that pierces the host plant's vascular system and allows the insect to suck out nutrients. One Carolina species can nearly carpet a meadow with spittle as its larvae attack clover; an infestation actually stunts clover growth and greatly reduces a meadow's ability to support grazing animals.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.