Hannelore Hoch, Martin Pingel, Dagmar Voigt, Urs Wyss, Stanislav Gorb

Adhesive properties of Aphrophoridae spittlebug foam

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology

Aphrophora alni spittlebug nymphs produce a wet foam from anal excrement fluid, covering and protecting themselves against numerous impacts. Foam fluid contact angles on normal (26°) and silanized glass (37°) suggest that the foam wets various substrates, including plant and arthropod surfaces. The pull-off force depends on the hydration state and is higher the more dry the fluid. Because the foam desiccates as fast as water, predators once captured struggle to free from drying foam, becoming stickier. The present study confirms that adhesion is one of the numerous foam characteristics resulting in multifunctional effects, which promote spittlebugs' survival and render the foam a smart, biocompatible material of biological, biomimetic and biomedical interest. The sustainable ‘reuse' of large amounts of excrement for foam production and protection of the thin nymph integument suggests energetic and evolutionary advantages. Probably, that is why foam nests have evolved in different groups of organisms, such as spittlebugs, frogs and fish.

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