Excrement from pine spittlebug nymphs repels predatory ants when the nymphs engulf themselves in a foam derived from their feces.

Spittlebug nymphs probably don’t have much of a social life – they cover themselves in a froth made of their excrement. But it’s a life-saving strategy that would otherwise leave them susceptible to the nymph-chewing jaws of predatory ants. After consuming sap from their favorite plant, the eastern white pine, spittlebug nymphs completely engulf themselves in foam containing at least five ant-repellant chemicals. As the predatory ants approach, taste buds in their probing antennae apparently find spittlebug fecal foam far from flavorful and proceed to wipe off the offending substances rather than make a meal of the nymph. The ant-repellant compounds also appear to be non-irritating to living tissue which would make them particularly interesting models for new pesticides.

Image: Emily Harrington /
Last Updated October 25, 2016