Wednesday, 2 May 2012

cuckoos don’t spit

The other day, whilst out for a stroll, I happened upon a leaf with a droplet suspended from the tip.  It glinted in the evening light and caught my eye (these things do!)


Hmm. What could it mean?

Alexis suggested that maybe it had just rained.

Well, I too had thought of that.  But when I’d looked a little closer at the other leaves on the tree, every one was dry; not a raindrop in sight.

Justin had a suggestion.  ‘You know those tress?’ he began.  ‘There are trees that drip on people who walk underneath.’

And yes, I too know those trees – I too have been dripped on by them!  But no, it wasn’t a dripping tree; but good thinking, Justin!

Alexis, having been deep in thought, shared another idea.  ‘Maybe the leaf is growing.’

And even though spring is the time when leaves do grow, that does not usually make them drip.

Just as I continued on my walk, by chance I looked back over my shoulder.  There was something behind the leaf.  Something the other side of the leaf was responsible for that drop.

‘Was it a cocoon?’ asked Ella.

‘Or a butterfly’s egg?’ asked Bianca.

‘Was it a caterpillar?’  This from Yanis.

‘I am sure it’s a caterpillar,’ added Justin.

But no, it was nothing to do with a butterfly.

‘It’s a fly,’ said Anusha confidently.

No - not a fly.

‘A snail?’ wondered Ayesha.

‘Because they are slimy,’ suggested Ella.

‘Or a slug,’ added Tanisha.

‘Slugs are slimy and they have no shell.  I can’t see a shell,’ said Nicholas.

Luckily I’d snapped a photo from the other side of the leaf.  Look.


‘Euggh',’ the chorus.  And yes, it does look like spit!  So like spit in fact, that it is called cuckoo spit even though it is not the spit from a cuckoo.  It is probably called that because you can see it at around the same time of year as you hear the first cuckoos.  Round about now, in fact.  (There followed a detailed conversation about cuckoos, but no time to document that here.  Instead, why not click to find out a bit more about cuckoos - and hear what they sound like)

So, the spit of a cuckoo is what it isn’t.  What it is, is a white frothy liquid (just like spit really!) that is secreted from (or ‘comes out of’) the nymph (that’s one stage in the life cycle)of an insect called a froghopper.  If you peer closely at the photo, you can just make out a darker spot in the middle of the spit; that’s the ‘nymph’ of the froghopper.  Busily making its drippy, foamy ‘spit’.

Next time you are out and about (at around the same time of year as you hear the first cuckoos) keep your eyes open for leaves with drips.  Because you might just have tracked down a froghopper nymph.

And don’t worry if you miss the cuckoo time of year - adult froghoppers live on the sap (the ‘juice’) of trees, so you might just be able to find one of those instead.

Can you imagine what a froghopper looks like?  Why not have a go at drawing one – and then check to see how close you got to the real thing!

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