Warning over white froth or foam on plants: What is ‘cuckoo spit’ and why spittlebugs could be harmful

Gardeners across the UK may begin to notice a white froth appearing on plants over the coming weeks - here’s what it is and why you should report it

As the nice weather continues Brits will be looking to spend more time outdoors and in their gardens. However, experts have issued a warning over a potentially “harmful” froth soon to be appearing on plants, urging people to report sightings of it.

A relatively common sight for the green-fingered, gardeners are now being advised not to touch the white foam, often referred to as ‘cuckoo spit’. The “spittle” actually has nothing to do with the bird and is in fact produced by the Spittlebug.

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The insect will coat itself in a ball of foam for protection as it sucks on the sap from plants. The creature’s offspring, known as froghoppers, will hatch on the leftover ball of foam.

The insect is usually active from the end of May up until the end of June so we are currently entering peak season for sightings of the froth in gardens across the UK.

However, scientists are worried about a plant disease that could be spread by the spittlebug known as Xyella. If the disease was found in the UK it would destroy plants within a 100m radius. Scientists say that a 5km plant quarantine would need to be put in place for five years afterwards to prevent the disease wiping out native UK plant species.

As the spittlebug could play a major role in the spread of Xyella scientists have asked people to report any sightings of the bug or the froth it leaves. This is in case of any outbreaks so they can track what causes it.

How to report Spittlebug froth

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The last Spittlebug survey ran in 2019 to 2020 and there is no current monitoring site to report to. However, the Spittlebug survey website does advise referring to BRIGIT which is a project that builds the UK’s capability to prevent establishment of vector-borne plant pathogens and to increase our preparedness to respond should they be introduced.

How to get rid of Spittlebug froth

According to the BRIGIT website, If you suspect that a plant may be infected with Xylella fastidiosa don’t attempt to control the disease yourself. Collect all available details and report your suspicions to the relevant plant health authority.

However, this isn’t necessary as while the insects feed on the plants they don’t harm them, or humans, so gardeners don’t need to do anything to remove the spittle or the bug.

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