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Cuckoo Spit

Cuckoo spit! Really?

They seem to be everywhere at the moment – those frothy, white globules sticking to grasses in the countryside and on your treasured garden plants. They really do look as if someone’s spat on the grass…yuck! But was it really a cuckoo?

Photo of cuckoo spit on grass
Cuckoo spit on clump of grass in Beanley Wood

Contrary to its name, cuckoo spit is not produced by cuckoos, but by tiny insects called froghoppers or spittlebugs: the common meadow spittlebug (Philaenus spumarius) is…well…common. They are winged insects that can jump great distances when threatened.

These insects feed on plant sap and excrete a frothy substance that covers their bodies and protects them from predators and dehydration. Cuckoo spit is harmless to plants and can be easily washed off with water. If you’re curious, you can gently wipe away the foam and find the nymphs inside. They are usually green or yellow and have strong hind legs that help them jump away from danger.

Close up photo of cuck spit
Frothy spittle of a froghopper

Cuckoo spit is a fascinating example of how insects adapt to their environment and survive in different conditions. Brill, eh?

Hang on…why is it called ‘cuckoo spit’?

If it’s not made by cuckoos, then why is it called cuckoo spit?

The answer to this is uncertain. However, it’s likely to be one of coincidence, i.e. cuckoo spit is seen on plants around the time that cuckoos are heard again when they return to the UK after having migrated to warmer climes (Africa) over the winter months.

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