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Why (and how) do spittlebugs make bubbles?

If you’ve ever seen tiny soap-like bubbles on a plant and wondered where they came from, consider these tiny insect nymphs called spittlebugs. They create the foamy bubbles for protection. It’s a bitter-tasting cocoon or shield that might discourage or bore predators like birds, wasps, and spiders that also provides emergency reserves of oxygen. From The New York Times:

The bugs create the mass of bubbles by emitting air from their abdomen into their copious and watery urine, mixed with some sticky fluid to aid in bubble formation.

“They’re really more piddlebugs than spittlebugs,” Philip G. D. Matthews, a researcher in the zoology department at the University of British Columbia, who just published a report on how spittlebugs manage to breathe in that nest of bubbles.

spittlebug foam
sheltered spittlebug
Researchers figured out that the spittlebugs were ‘snorkeling’ within the bubbles by measuring the carbon dioxide and oxygen gases in the bugs’ container and foam. And when they’re ready to transform into their adult froghopper forms, they retreat into one large bubble.

froghopper nymph
Next: Flower-like Planthopper Nymphs spring away from harm.

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