Spittlebugs, or froghoppers, constitute the superfamily Cercopoidea, which
currently includes up to 5 families: Aphrophoridae (treated as a subfamily
of Cercopidae by some), Cercopidae, Clastopteridae, Epipygidae, and Machaerotidae
(treated as a subfamily of Clastopteridae by some). This superfamily embraces
approximately 2500 described species and 330 genera. The common name "spittlebug"
arises from the lifestyle of many species, whose nymphs form spittle masses
in which they develop, concealed from predators and protected from desiccation.
Two spittlebug families, Cercopidae and Aphrophoridae, occur worldwide, with
many species in the tropics, but relatively few in the Holarctic region. In
contrast, Machaerotidae occur only in the Afrotropical, Australian, Indomalayan,
and Palearctic regions. With the exception of a single Philippine genus, Clastopteridae
are limited to the New World. Epipygidae occur only in the Neotropics.
Spittlebugs range from 3 to 27 mm in length (including the wing tips). Most
species resemble leafhoppers, but the hind tibiae have at most 1 or 2 strong
lateral spines rather than longitudinal rows of enlarged setae. Also, the hind
tibiae are shorter than those of leafhoppers, and the tibial apex has a crown
of enlarged radiating spines. In froghoppers, the frontotclypeus is large and
not only covers most of the face but also extends dorsally. Although many froghoppers
have cryptic coloration, many species of the family Cercopidae are brightly
colored, with some combination of red, red-orange, yellow, and black, perhaps
representing warning coloration associated with reflex bleeding. Some adult
Machaerotidae have a posteriorly directed spinelike scutellar process, superficially
resembling the pronotal process of treehoppers. As an apparent adaptation for
life within spittle masses, froghopper nymphs have the abdominal tergites extended
downward as flaps, forming a completely or partially closed "breathing tube"
that functions in respiration and the production of the spittle mass.
Ecology and Behavior
Spittlebugs, like cicadas and one subfamily of leafhoppers, feed on plant
xylem sap. The specialized Malpighian tubules of immature froghoppers synthesize
products that make the filtered sap viscous. Nymphs use the tip of the abdominal
breathing tube to introduce bubbles of air into these excreta to form spittle.
Many nymphal cercopids feed on roots, forming spittle masses at or below the
soil surface. Clastopterids and most aphrophorids develop in spittle masses
on aerial plant parts. Finally, machaerotid nymphs produce calcareous tubes
or cases in which they live immersed in fluid secretions. When molting to the
adult stage (and in some cases at other molts), machaerotid nymphs have been
observed to exit their tubes and produce spittle. Many froghoppers are preferentially
associated with nitrogen-fixing angiosperms: cercopids with nitrogen-fixing
grasses, clastopterids with actinorhizal plants, and aphrophorids with legumes.
In many parts of the world, grass-feeding spittlebugs are serious pests of
pastures, sugarcane, and maize. Certain Costa Rican cercopids are facultatively
aquatic. Their nymphs may either live submerged in the water-filled bracts
of Heliconia flowers or may develop in spittle masses just like other spittlebugs.
These are the only well-documented aquatic auchenorrhynchans.
Spittlebugs prepared by L. L. Deitz, V. Thompson, R. A. Rakitov, C. H. Dietrich, J. R. Cryan, and P. A. Alvarez. 1 December 2008.
Explore the diversity among spittlebugs through GigaPan images from the NCSU Insect Museum (includes Z. P. Metcalf's collection). Four of the five families are represented (as subfamilies) of Cercopidae
(drawers 1-8 = Cercopidae (as Cercopidae: Cercopinae); drawers 9-10 = Clasptopteridae (as Cercopidae: Clasptopterinae); drawers 11-17 = Aphrophoridae (as Cercopidae: Aphrophorinae); drawer 18, columns 3-4 = Machaerotidae (as Cercopidae: Machaerotinae).
Compiled by P. A. Alvarez, L. L. Deitz, and D. R. Nimocks. 1 December 2008.
Potentially useful sites may have been omitted because reviewers [Acknowledgments] noted significant misidentifications or other concerns.
Cercopoidea Organized On Line (COOL).
Australian Faunal Directory: references on Cercopoidea.
Saratoga Spittlebug: Aphrophora saratogensis [L.F. Wilson].
Saratoga Spittlebug: Aphrophora saratogensis.
Prepared by L. L. Deitz, V. Thompson, P. A. Alvarez, M. K. Whitley, and N. D. Caldwell. 1 December 2008 (updated 24 June 2014).
Bell, A. J.; Svenson, G. J.; Cryan, J.R. 2014a. The phylogeny and revised classification of Machaerotidae, the tube-making spittlebugs (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha: Cercopoidea). Syst. Entomol. 39(3): 474-485.
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