Cercopidae--featuring the Frog hopper--{Cuckoo spit}

Ceropidae belong to the Order Hemiptera and the sub-order Auchenorrhyncha and contains the families Aphrophoridae, Clastopteridae, Epipygidae, Machaerotidae and the one under review here Cercopidae. { Epipigidae has recently been removed from the Aphrophoridae}

The hemiptera from homoios indicating alike+ optera =wing are the true bugs. They have piercing mouth parts, known as a rostrum, which contain two pairs of stylets.{ slender probes}. The outer pair have serrated edges for piercing. The inner form a kind of canal for food to pass up and saliva to pass down. The tip of the rostrum has receptive cells to assess the suitability of food.

Mouth parts  usually fold under the body in a jack knife manner. Adults have usually two pairs of wings the front pair being partially hardened. The body length can be from just 1mm long to 130mm.

The Hemiptera are divided into 2 sub-orders Heteroptera and Homoptera, The frog hoppers belongs to the Homoptera sub-order.The Hemioptera contains approximately 82,000 species world wide,7,000 in Europe and an estimated 1650 in the British Isles. The Homoptera have wings that are entirely membranous or hardened and includes the Cicadas, Leaf hoppers, and Aphids. All Homoptera species are plant feeders.

 The one under review here is the common frog hopper. 

Common Frog hopper Philaenus spumarius. Formerly Athrophora spumaria.

The small common frog hopper is variably patterned with brown,black or paler white. The wings are held almost roof like over the body.The shape of the insect is triangular and from above it is almost frog like hence the common name, along with the fact that the insects hop. Recent studies have revealed it is capable of jumping into the air up to 70cm which is quite remarkable for the size of the insect. It the back legs which are the instruments for this purpose, which are so well produced that they trail behind the creature when it is walking. In some regions they are also known as spittle bugs.


Adult frog hoppers

Photographs by Dal.

The adults appear from June until Novembe. They are brown but variably marked measuring 5-7 mm long and may be encountered on many species of plants including hawthorn and sorrel. The female lays her eggs in the crevices of dead or dormant plant stems. Up to 100 eggs are laid in late summer after which the female dies.

The eggs hatch into nymphs the following spring. The hatched nympth climbs the stems to suck the sap. It is in form very similar to that of the adults, but unlike the adults they have no wings and the legs  are only rudimental, as are the eyes. Crucially it has but a thin outer body layer or exoskeleton which unlike the adults is not covered by a waxy layer.

The nymph soon surrounds itself with a frothy foam known commonly as cuckoo spit. This because the nympths are plentiful when the bird returns to our shores. In some regions it is known as frog spit for the similar reasons. In Scandinavian  countries it is called witche's spit and in Macbeth it was an ingredient of the witche's brew.

The froth is produced by the yellowish green nympth from the rear end in the form of a fluid which turns foamy by it blowing air out of its hind spiracles { paired air holes running down the side of the insects body }. This foamy froth has two functions, the first to stop the nymph from drying out { which would be fatal} and the second it conceals them from predators particularly birds because the froth is unpalatable.

The nymph feeds with its head downwards. This group of insects have an incomplete metamorphis - there is no pupal stage. The nymph goes through a series of moults before it emerges as an adult. 

The nymph is concealed within the frothy foam

Photograph by Dal

Frog hopper nymph

photograph by Dal

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