Spittlebugs and Skunk Cabbage

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Spring has sprung! Plants are popping up, animals are waking up, and even bugs are showing up. If you go outside and pay attention to the world around you, you’ll see all sorts of “spring things.” They weren’t around in the winter, or they weren’t green, or they weren’t hatched yet. And in the summer they’re going to be a lot different. They’ll hatch and grow and bloom and move.

So right now is the time to go outside and catch creation in its spring clothes. Bundle up if it’s a bit chilly out there. Take along a couple of thick newspapers to sit or kneel on. Prepare yourself to walk gently and sit quietly. Many of these spring things are new and small and a little bit fragile.

But first, read these pages. They’ll help you recognize some of the small wonders God has put at your doorstep.

Spittlebugs

Have you ever seen “spit” on your grass? It looks as if someone simply spit as they walked through your yard. Try to find a blob of that foamy spit. (If you can’t find it, just use your imagination.)
Take a small stick or a blade of grass and gently scrape away the foam. You’ll discover that it is sticky, almost like glue. Underneath you should spot a small, soft, green insect: a spittlebug.

This spittlebug spent the winter in an egg buried in the ground. Not long ago it hatched, climbed up onto a young plant, and stuck its beak into the tender stem. Now it’s drinking lots of plant juice. It uses some as food; the rest comes out of its back end as sticky foam. Because the bug perches upside down on the plant, the foam rolls down over it and creates instant protection. It’s got a foam home!

Pretty soon this spittlebug will grow a hard shell for protection and move out of its foam home. Then it will be known as a froghopper, but that’s another story.

To see both spring and summer spittlebug forms, do a Google Image search using the term “meadow spittlebug life cycle.”

Skunk Cabbage

You’ll need to look in soggy places to find skunk cabbage. This plant needs to keep its “feet” wet. It blooms in early spring.

The skunk cabbage flower doesn’t look like a common flower. It looks like a thick dark green or brown-spotted green leaf curled around a yellow finger. It grows right on the soggy ground, not on a stalk.

Skunk cabbage stinks. To us it smells like garbage. If you find one, get on your hands and knees and take a big whiff. You may think it’s an awful smell, but certain bugs like it. They can smell it a long way off, and the smell invites them to come for a meal of nectar and pollen and for protection from weather.

Unlike most plants, skunk cabbage even makes its own heat! Bugs seem to know that. On a cold spring day you might find many bugs hunkered down and warming up in skunk cabbage.

During the summer, skunk cabbage will look completely different. Its leaves will have grown and its flower will have disappeared. The bugs will have disappeared or changed too. But that’s another story.

To see what skunk cabbage looks like throughout the year, do a Google Images search for “skunk cabbage.”

Doodlebugs

Doodlebugs, also called “antlions,” grow up in areas with loose sand and protection overhead. Often you can find them on disturbed ground under the eaves of a house, garage, or barn.

Doodlebugs’ homes look like upside-down anthills. They’re sandy pits instead of sandy mounds. Doodlebugs prey on any little critter that falls into their pit.

When you find a doodlebug home, prepare to “tease” it just a bit. This doesn’t hurt the bug but it shows you just how fast and clever such a little thing can be.

First, take a blade of grass and brush it gently over the outside edge of the doodlebug home. Make the grass blade act like an ant walking nearby. If the bug is awake and alert, it might throw grains of sand up and out of its front door. Watch carefully: in this mini world a little bug is throwing “boulders” at another bug.

Sometimes the doodlebug isn’t hungry or isn’t paying attention. Then you can scoop it out of its house. This won’t harm the critter.
With both hands try to scoop up the whole doodlebug home. Then let the sand sift slowly from your hands. If you’ve got the doodlebug you’ll feel something scrabbling around on your hands. It just wants to go home. Put it back gently on the sand.

Then you can watch the bug make a new home. It wiggles itself backwards in circles, throwing the sand into perfect little piles. Then it crawls into its front door, settles down, and waits for a real ant to show up.

An adult doodlebug is called a fish fly. It looks and acts completely different.

To see what a doodlebug looks like, search Google Images using the search term “antlion life cycle.”

That’s a Promise

How can we be so sure that summer will bring changes to these spring things? Because God has promised. Unscramble the words below and write them on the lines below in the right order so that the promise makes sense. Check Genesis 8:22 for your answer.

“As long as the night endures, cold and winter, heat and summer, seedtime and day, earth and harvest will never cease” —Genesis 8:22

About the Author

Joanne De Jonge is a freelance writer and a former U.S. National Park Ranger. She attends West Valley Christian Fellowship in Phoenix, Ariz.
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