And we're off!
Updated: May 6
Firstly, I hope everyone is keeping safe, well and as stress-free as realistically possible in these strange and troubling times. This is certainly not the start to the spittlebug field season that I was expecting when I hung up my sweep net at the end of last season. Myself and a number of my BRIGIT colleagues had a full schedule of field surveys planned for this year, but as yet we don't know when, or indeed if, we will be able to get started.
But all is not lost! As we know from the amazing response we got from our citizen science Spittlebug Hunt last year (over 18,000 records were submitted! Thank you so much to all who contributed), for those of us that are lucky enough to have access to a garden, spittlebugs can be found, often in surprisingly large numbers, right on our doorsteps. In view of this, we have launched the Garden Spittlebug Hunt 2020 and would love it if you could let us know if you spot any spittle in your garden and, ideally, what type of plant you saw it on. I'm still wading my way through the 2019 data, but it looks like lavender, rosemary, rose, fuchsia and mint were the clear favourites for our spittlebug friends last year, so these might be good places to start looking. As an added bonus, evidence also tells us that getting outdoors into nature, even under very restricted circumstances, is extremely beneficial for our mental health, something that I am definitely appreciating at the moment.
The confusing weather we've been having (scorching sunshine one day, torrential rain and bitterly cold hurricane-strength winds the next) has made for a variable start to the spittle season. As of this morning, 71 lovely people have already submitted records of spittle sightings, which is fantastic, but has also been somewhat frustrating on a personal level as I hadn't been able to find any at all. Until today! At last - a lovely blob of spittle on the underside of a bramble leaf in the thicket that masquerades as my front hedge!
I carefully scooped it up and uncovered this tiny chap sheltering inside.
This looks to be a first, or possibly second, instar nymph of Philaenus spumarius, also known as the Meadow Spittlebug, and by far the most common and abundant of all our spittlebug species. Nymphs go through five instars (or developmental stages) before becoming adults. Philaenus tend to change colour as they go through these stages, starting off as orange, then becoming a paler creamy-yellow, and later light green through to a striking lime green before they adopt their final adult colouration. You can find out more information about how to identify spittlebug nymphs in our handout and our (if I do say so myself!) rather wonderful video (filmed last year when we didn't have to think about social distancing). After taking a couple of quick snaps, I gently popped the little fella back on its leaf where it will have soon created more spittle to cover itself back up again.
Stay safe, and if you spot any spittle, please do let us know.