We see a lot of little kids at the Audubon Center in spring… literally thousands. Almost all are PreK through grade 4 or so… most in the very youngest grades – PreK through 1st. Little kids like little things. It does no good to point to a Great Blue Heron standing in the middle of Big Pond if there is an ant on the railing of the overlook. Indeed, we have been known to lead entire 1.5-hour field trips just in the backyard.
Spittlebugs are one of my favorite things to show. First I show them how to find the white froth on the stems of certain plants. It’s funny how you might walk right past it not noticing… until someone shows you one example. Then suddenly, it’s everywhere! They tell me what they think it is… frog spit or snake spit are the most common guesses.
Next I show them how to reach into the froth to find the actual cause: a bitty little bug with teeny black eyes. After they watch my bug for a few seconds, they invariably ask, “Can I hold it?” I encourage them to find their own spittlebug.
They are hesitant at first. It seems like a really gross thing to do: reach into foamy spit on a plant… eww. Still, they are so eager to hold their own bug that eventually they cave in. Once we all have bugs on our fingers, I tell them that as the bug starts to feel more comfortable, it may start to do the “Spittlebug Dance”.
The dance involves elongating your abdomen and pushing it up into the air. After we observe the bugs do this for a little while, I encourage everyone to try it! It’s good to use a high-pitched voice to say, “Whooo! Whooo!” as you do this. Mind you, I have never heard a spittlebug make this noise. But humans doing the dance just seem to need to make some sort of noise, don’t you think?
After the dance, we place the bugs back on the same kind of plant it came from. Each species of Spittlebug has its own food preference: you wouldn’t want to put a pine-loving Spittlebug on a goldenrod or vice versa.
What is your favorite nature thing to share with children?
While surfing around the ‘net to see what others have posted about Spittlebugs, I found this amazing photo of a Spittlebug costume. I think he’s a genius!