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The two-lined spittlebug is an increasingly common pest of Georgia turf grasses. It will feed on all turfgrasses, but it hits centipede turf especially hard.
Two-lined spittlebug adult
Photo: NC State
Both adults and nymphs feed on the plants by inserting their needle-like beaks into the stem and sucking out the juices. This causes the grass to yellow, wither and die if it goes unchecked.
The symptoms are similar to the damage caused by chinch bugs. But spittlebug adults are much more mobile. The damage tends to be spread out, rather than concentrated.
Spittlebugs overwinter as eggs in plant stems, under leaf sheaths or in plant debris.
Nymphs hatch in the spring and begin feeding. They exude a white, frothy mass around them that resembles spittle. It serves to protect the nymphs from drying out and from natural enemies.
The nymphs feed for about a month before becoming adults. Adults live for about three weeks and lay eggs for the last two weeks of that time. The eggs take two weeks to hatch in the summer. Two generations hatch each year.
Adult two-lined spittlebugs are about a quarter-inch long and black to dark brown. They have two bright, red or orange lines across their wings. Nymphs resemble small, wingless adults. They're white to yellowish orange with red eyes and a brown head.
Early damage symptoms will look like yellow spots of dead or dying grass. With heavy infestations, these spots may overlap to form large areas of dead turf.
The nymphs are easily detected. Just look on the grass stems near the soil surface for their distinctive spittle masses. Adults fly readily when disturbed and can be flushed from the grass by walking through affected areas.
It's been reported that spittlebug adults can damage a variety of ornamental plants, too, particularly during late summer and fall, when populations are at their highest levels. The ornamental plants they prefer include hollies, asters and morning glory.
Spittlebug infestations can be controlled with several commonly available turf insecticides. Use plenty of water to apply the insecticide. This volume is easily achieved with a hose-end sprayer, but not with a hydraulic sprayer pulled behind a lawn tractor.
Contact your county University of Georgia Extension Service for recommendations.
Take steps to reduce the buildup of thatch. Nymphs need high humidity to survive. Turf with excessive thatch is much more likely to provide them the conditions they need.
Following good turf management practices, too, can make infestations or reinfestations less likely.