Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Spittlebug spittle

with 96 comments

On June 12th, for the first time in years, I hiked up the cliff on the west side of the Capital of Texas Highway overlooking the Colorado River. Arriving at the top and not seeing anything there for my purposes, I followed the path westward along the cliff for at least a quarter of a mile and did find some things to photograph. Probably the most interesting was this spittlebug spittle on the stalk of a fading zexmenia flower head, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida. The stalk on the right is lost in shadows, and I cropped in at the left so the wilting flower head wouldn’t distract from all the froth. Notice how the large bubble at the bottom acted as a convex lens that created a fisheye image of surrounding plants and blue sky.

UPDATE: On July 10th Wanda Hill made the excellent suggestion of cropping down to the large bubble at the lower tip of the spittle and rotating it 180° so the sky would be at the top. I’ve done that, and if you’d like to see the world in a bubble, just click the icon below for an enlargement.

Spittlebug Spittle Tip Inverted 1689

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 8, 2019 at 4:40 AM

96 Responses

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  1. I’ve noticed a lot of spittle on the plants lately.

    Jim R

    July 8, 2019 at 7:15 AM

    • I’ve noticed a lot at certain times but haven’t ever kept track of when that was. I expect entomologists could tell us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 7:21 AM

      • That word always brings up another that sounds a lot like it. Perhaps you are familiar with it. 🙂

        Jim R

        July 8, 2019 at 8:02 AM

        • I’m not sure what word you have in mind. Spittle reminds me, as someone who grew up in New York, of Spuyten Duyvil:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spuyten_Duyvil,_Bronx

          If, on the other hand, you were referring to zexmenia, botanists and native plant people here enjoy calling it sex mania.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 8, 2019 at 10:49 AM

          • I was thinking of etymologist. I’ve never heard of Spuyten Duyvil. It sounds like a devilish place, tho.

            Jim R

            July 8, 2019 at 2:53 PM

            • Imagine me not picking up on etymologist. A devil must’ve been spouting in my brain. I did, however, revert to form when I noted, way down in the comments: “This high-toned conversation reminds me that tone and tune are etymologically the same word.”

              I’m not surprised that you haven’t heard of Spuyten Duyvil. Had I not grown up in the New York City area, I doubt I’d have heard of it, either.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 8, 2019 at 3:00 PM

      • Minnesota claims to have 54 varieties. https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/spittlebugs

        Jim R

        July 8, 2019 at 8:11 AM

  2. Excellent photo of bug excrement, a fascinating adaptation.

    MichaelStephenWills

    July 8, 2019 at 7:16 AM

    • It is fascinating. I wonder how many tiny bubbles make up the mass shown here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 7:22 AM

      • If you estimated the volume and determined the average bubble diameter a reasonable estimate would be close at hand.

        MichaelStephenWills

        July 9, 2019 at 6:28 AM

        • Good point. Now I wonder if entomologists have already done that. I did a brief search but didn’t turn up a number.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 9, 2019 at 6:34 AM

  3. For some reason that reminds me of a foot in an athletic sock. Sometimes they can look like jewelry or an oldfashion lighting fixture.

    Steve Gingold

    July 8, 2019 at 7:26 AM

  4. So cool 😎 wonderful abstraction ~ smiles Hedy ☺️

    sloppy buddhist

    July 8, 2019 at 7:35 AM

    • For someone as fond of abstractions as I am—and it seems you are too—this was a good find.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 7:37 AM

      • It’s wild never seen it before and yes I’m fond of abstraction ~ enjoy and have another creative day ☺️

        sloppy buddhist

        July 8, 2019 at 7:41 AM

        • Here in Austin, spittlebug spittle is a pretty common sight. This picture is from four weeks ago, and I’ve seen more spittle recently. I don’t know where you are, but I’ll bet spittlebugs hang out there too. You could check with people in a local nature group to find out.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 8, 2019 at 7:47 AM

  5. That’s an amazing shot! The spittle certainly has a sort of beauty. I don’t fret about them and they do like the zexmenia.

    Tina

    July 8, 2019 at 8:04 AM

    • It’s good that you’ve corroborated seeing spittlebugs on zexmenia. My impression is that they prefer certain plants. Indian blankets are another species I’ve repeatedly seen spittlebugs on. And yes, I definitely find a beauty in the bubbles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 10:37 AM

  6. That reflective drop at the bottom drew my eye immediately. This is a cool shot.

    melissabluefineart

    July 8, 2019 at 8:50 AM

  7. Spittle bugs are also very common here in our latitudes. It is truly amazing how such a small bug can create so much spittle. Great macro, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    July 8, 2019 at 9:01 AM

  8. I’ve seen this every summer of my life, rude bug behavior, but haven’t looked closely at them for a long time. I love the little fisheye image. You may have heard of Eric Carle, who writes/illustrates wonderful children’s books. He had a spittlebug in one of his stories, in the animated version, it gurgles hello to a passing cricket, which always made me laugh.

    Robert Parker

    July 8, 2019 at 9:37 AM

    • Yes, the fisheye lens at the bottom was just the right fillip, making this a unique image in my oeuvre (art critics can’t just call work work; they feel like they have to translate it into French). Speaking of translation, I found the following in the Wikipedia article about Eric Carle, whom I hadn’t heard of: “Eric Carle is an American designer, illustrator, and writer of children’s books. He is most noted for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a picture book that has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold more than 46 million copies, equivalent to 1.8 copies sold every minute since it was published in 1969.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 10:59 AM

      • Carle is a wonderful illustrator – as I remember, the pictures in the caterpillar book were made from torn paper, so I guess “collage” (?) if we have to use French, or “Chigiri-e.” I was also glad I looked up “fillip,” because I’d misunderstood what it meant, I’d always thought “livened up with a bit of spice” but really stimulus/boost

        Robert Parker

        July 8, 2019 at 11:38 AM

    • I will admit to, though embarrassed to do so, that the Carle museum is 2 miles from my house. True also for Emily Dickinson’s home or grave, I have been to neither.

      Steve Gingold

      July 8, 2019 at 12:25 PM

      • Then it’s time to remedy your deficiency. Go for it.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 8, 2019 at 12:51 PM

        • I’ve considered it, especially Dickinson’s Home, in the interest of folks like you and Linda who might enjoy some pictures from there in a blog post.

          Steve Gingold

          July 8, 2019 at 1:17 PM

          • That would be a change of pace for your blog—unless you showed nature pictures from outside those places.

            Steve Schwartzman

            July 8, 2019 at 1:31 PM

            • I probably would. Linda said she’s more interested in the gardens than the furniture.

              Steve Gingold

              July 8, 2019 at 1:42 PM

      • !!?!! It’s like all the NYC folks who’ve never been up the Empire State Building, or gone out to the Statue of Liberty. I hadn’t heard of the museum, but it’s a really nice idea, and nice of Carle to create it.

        Robert Parker

        July 8, 2019 at 1:06 PM

        • Yes and they offer lots of programs for kids through the years as well as promote other books and authors. They recently honored Norton Juster author, who lives here in Amherst, and Jules Feiffer illustrator for their book “The Phantom Tollbooth” which many of us, though not I, read when younger.

          Yeah, there are all sorts of things locally that one doesn’t seem to find the time to do or have the interest in for that matter. I’ve never done anything on either Amherst College’s or Hampshire College’s (where Carle’s museum is located) campus

          Steve Gingold

          July 8, 2019 at 1:15 PM

          • Then I seem to be ahead of you. When we were in Massachusetts a decade ago I’m pretty sure we spent time in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. We also went to the art museum at Smith College. We visited several museums in that part of the state, and at this distance in time they tend to blend.

            Steve Schwartzman

            July 8, 2019 at 1:29 PM

            • I really should go to them. They all have nice holdings and several by well-respected artists. Amherst College has a collection of dinosaur footprints collected from here in the valley.

              Steve Gingold

              July 8, 2019 at 1:44 PM

          • I remember that book, pretty good!

            Robert Parker

            July 8, 2019 at 1:33 PM

        • My mother, who was born in Manhattan and spent almost her entire life in the New York City area, never went to the Statue of Liberty.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 8, 2019 at 1:19 PM

          • I guess I’ve been to Watkins Glen a hundred times, but never to the big race track there. I’m not interested in NASCAR, etc. and most likely, I’ll never go there unless it’s for a concert.

            Robert Parker

            July 8, 2019 at 1:48 PM

            • I understand that those cars have highly tuned engines. Probably all whine in key.

              Steve Gingold

              July 8, 2019 at 1:54 PM

              • haha! 🙂
                I can hear the races, miles away in the woods, not very tuneful.

                Robert Parker

                July 8, 2019 at 2:08 PM

                • I bet there is a lot of hearing loss for those at the track. When I was a kid there was a race track across the Connecticut River from Springfield, MA. On Saturday night there was no such thing as peace and quiet.

                  Steve Gingold

                  July 8, 2019 at 2:14 PM

                • This high-toned conversation reminds me that tone and tune are etymologically the same word.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 8, 2019 at 2:40 PM

                • Cars get tune ups, and even have harmonic balancers on the crankshaft, but that’s the only other musical notes that come to mind.

                  Robert Parker

                  July 8, 2019 at 3:00 PM

                • Well, you have re embedded in your family name if you read the last two letters backwards. In addition, tones is an anagram of notes. What’s more, both are anagrams of stone, and you can go stone deaf if you stay too close to a roaring engine for too long.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 8, 2019 at 3:05 PM

              • Surely you’ve heard the old joke (better spoken than read, but never mind): “What’s the favorite wine in New York?” “I wanna go to Miami.”

                shoreacres

                July 11, 2019 at 7:36 PM

                • Our next-door neighbors on Long Island did retire to Florida. I don’t recall them whining about it first, however.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 11, 2019 at 9:50 PM

            • Have you engaged in polydactyly by visiting all 11 of the Finger Lakes (or 12 if you count Onondaga)?

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 8, 2019 at 2:55 PM

              • That sent my fingers running to the dictionary, if not the yellow pages – – I thought that was the big flying lizard thing in dinosaur days. Yes, I’ve visited them all, although I’ve only been swimming in a couple.

                Robert Parker

                July 8, 2019 at 3:06 PM

                • Then you’re way ahead of the pterodactyls, which died out tens of millions of years before glaciers gouged out the Finger Lakes, so no dinosaur ever had a chance to visit them.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 8, 2019 at 3:10 PM

  9. It really does work as an abstract, and the lens is the star of the show.

    Michael Scandling

    July 8, 2019 at 10:00 AM

  10. What a cool picture! I used to see that a lot when I lived in the Midwest!

    M.B. Henry

    July 8, 2019 at 4:58 PM

    • You’re the third person to call this cool. It was indeed an excellent find (in the Texas heat, of course). From what I’ve been reading, spittlebugs are found in most regions; you’ve confirmed the Midwest.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2019 at 5:17 PM

  11. The fisheye image is very cool, Steve, but I am not sure about the rest of it…

    tanjabrittonwriter

    July 8, 2019 at 8:15 PM

  12. For me, most intriguing part of pic is the reflection drop at the “sock” tip. Would think it’d be great if you added an enlarged, ~180 degree rotated, cropped image of the drop (with or without spittle smidge) to give the impression of a “snow” globe with scenery.

    whilldtkwriter

    July 10, 2019 at 3:18 PM

  13. I’ve seen more spittle this year than ever before. Probably the most dramatic was a sunflower with the entire stalk covered from top to bottom. The resemblance of this batch to a foot caught me immediately, although I saw a bandaged foot rather than a sock. The glass-like toe made me smile. Some people are said to have a glass jaw. Perhaps there’s such a thing as a glass ankle, too.

    shoreacres

    July 11, 2019 at 7:43 PM

    • I’m glad to hear your confirmation of lots of spittle this year. I hope you got a good picture of the spittle-covered sunflower stalk. As for the foot, whether bandaged or ensocked (to make up an adjective), its glass toe was unique in my experience.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2019 at 9:55 PM

  14. […] June 12th, after photographing spittlebug spittle, I began making my way back along the clifftop trail above the Colorado River on the west side of […]

  15. Spittlebugs were very active here a few weeks ago, all of a sudden, and maybe it’s always that way but I haven’t noticed before. This photo -either way it’s shown – is fantastic!

    bluebrightly

    July 12, 2019 at 1:02 PM

    • Hey, I’ll take fantastic any time, any way, so thanks.

      Since you’re so far from Texas, it seems this has been a good year for spittlebugs generally.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2019 at 1:43 PM

  16. Hey Steve … The spittlebug strikes again! Super shot. Of course knowing that we have spittlebugs here too, I finally googled it! Yep I’ve seen them alive and well in our garden .. 🙂

    Julie@frogpondfarm

    July 13, 2019 at 1:06 AM

    • Now that you mention it, I don’t recall seeing any spittlebug spittle during either of our trips to New Zealand. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, because many times when I go out in nature here I don’t see any, either.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 13, 2019 at 4:25 AM

  17. That upside-down (or rather, downside-up) effect is really something!

    tanjabrittonwriter

    July 14, 2019 at 3:48 PM


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