Monday, May 29, 2023

Finger Gall Inquiliines

We found some of these elm leaf finger galls on a tree beside our deck measuring up to 15 mm long.  With a magnifier I could see that  each had an exit hole. so I cut into a few to see their internal structure.  Under magnification I was surprised to find tiny creatures visible only under magnification, living in the hollowed galls.  These are either inquilines or new inhabitants using the structures that have been deserted by the original occupants.  


This little 1mm critter was inside a gall and I couldn't tell if it was an eriophyid mite that caused the gall or another visitor.  It wiggled its butt but didn't crawl around.

This 3mm beetle had found a home in another finger gall.  You can compare it to the dark stained exit hole on the bottom of the gall.  I always wonder what they might find to eat.

You can see these two 3mm flies were crawling around, not particularly disturbed by having their home cut open.  They never did fly away and were still near the gall an hour later moving around at this Youtube link that I filmed with a Celestron MicroCapture Pro digital microscope.  

There are two takeaway lessons in this:

  1. Looking closely you can find lots of life in small spaces.  To quote Dee Morgan, "Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum."
  2. I have way too much time on my hands. 
There is more on elm leaf finger galls at this link.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Exploring a Little Gem


The 5th grade WOLF class explored La Petite Gemme Prairie last week with their usual vigor. We found lots of the usual suspects and some great new finds.  One of my favorites was the beauty above that was on the prairie roses in great numbers. These occurred in small 1-3 foot clumps scattered across the prairie.  This is Carolina rose, Rosa carolina This prairie rose is found across the US, ranging from glades, open woods, prairies, to wet soils along streams and swamps and low areas.  We commonly find these colorful leaf galls decorating them on the prairie.

These spiky balls were galls created by the spiny rose wasp gall - Diplolepis bicolorI split one open during the WOLF field trip in 2021 and it revealed a lively larva that was constantly jumping and impossible to photograph.  I had to settle for a frame grab from my shaky video seen here.  This year I was more organized and brought some home to open under the microscope.  This one laid dormant until I used a single hair from our dog, Duke, to touch it lightly as seen here, setting it off on a twitching spasm which lasted 5 minutes!

Much of what is written about rose galls focuses on how to get rid of these "pests."  Apparently a rose-growing purist doesn't see the same beauty as my 5th grade colleagues did on the prairie.  There are roughly 50 Diplolepis sp. which are in the Cynipid wasp family.  Their larvae induce galls on wild roses, and rarely on domestic roses.

Diplolepis sp - Charley Eiseman

The insect overwinters as a larva in the gall.  In early spring the adult wasp matures and chews out through the gall, just as the first cells of leaf tissue appear. After mating it looks for fresh expanding leaf tissue to lay eggs on. The eggs attach to 1-2 plant cells and this induces gall formation. Once hatched, the larva feeding stimulates gall growth even more. This provides food and shelter until the next spring.  There is only one generation per year.

Diving deeper, Diplolepis sp. have their own special problems.  While safely hiding in the gall, there are interlopers that can move in with them.  Most Diplolepis galls are known to host inquilines - species that invade and occupy a gall but do not feed on the larva. They may however harm the larva by competing for their resources like a hungry roommate.

As if life wasn't tough enough,  Diplolepis species and their inquilines can be attacked by a wide variety of parasitoid wasp species.  With this complex intra-gall food chain, I no longer feel bad about opening mine up.  

Prairie Crayfish

This year we had several other personal firsts.   In the classroom we had talked about the prairie crayfish which burrow tunnels down to water level sometimes as far as 6 feet below the surface.  Three different student teams found dead crayfish on the ground around their deserted burrows.

Oblonged-winged Katydid - MDC

My personal highlight was a pink katydid.  I have read about them for years but it took sharp-eyed WOLF students (who are incidentally built lower to the ground) to actually capture one.  We commonly find the green form and the pink-yellow-orange variants are common in prairies but are thought to be eaten by predators because of their lack of camouflage as explained by MDC here.  We couldn't get good pictures through a plastic bug box and all living finds are returned to the prairie unharmed.

Finally, a popular if not rare find was this ornate box turtle seen in this video plowing through the dense vegetation which must feel like a forest to it.  It is either looking for insects and an occasional berry for dinner or possibly looking for love.

Barb and I are privileged to go on a field trip with young eyes.  They see more and are more inquisitive, leading us to see a fresh view of a prairie.  More on the WOLF School is at this linkLa Petite Gemme Prairie is owned and protected by the Missouri Prairie Foundation, one of 32 protected prairie remnants.  More past prairie adventures in these blogs.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Micromoths of May

Umber moth- Hypomecis umbrosaria

May is the start of moth season on Bull Creek.  Leaving the porch light on Sunday night called in a haul of micromoths.  My definition is a moth less that an inch long.  The umber moth above is a good example, common, underappreciated and with little information the lifecycle.  It is in the Geometridae family whose name come from the inchworm larvae that seem to measure the earth as they crawl along.  There is another similar moth more common to the north which requires dissection to differentiate, so this is good enough for me.

Curved-lined angle moth

The curved-lined angle moth, Digrammia continuata, is another geometrid moth. This one has larvae feasting on our eastern red cedars.  This is another common find on the wall of our deck.  Its larva grows to 29mm, virtually an "inch-worm" before pupating in the soil over winter.  Soon they will be laying eggs on cedar trees, preparing for another year.

Small Necklace Moth
The small necklace moth, Hypsoropha hormos, is distinctive but like many of these micromoths, there isn't much on them easily available.  For me, the thrill is in the chase through INaturalist and other resources.  With a deep dive I found that their host plant is sassafras.



Below is it's cousin, the large necklace moth, Hypsoropha monilis.

Large Necklace Moth

Banded tiger moth
This banded tiger moth, Apantesis vittata, is a common find this time of year.  It is a beauty and we will be seeing them over several months.  They feed on a variety of herbs including dandelion.  Their bright aposematic colors help them ward off predators by signaling that they might have a bitter taste, (although no entomologist has reported tasting them).

Spcekled Lactura
Finally we have the speckled lactura, Enaemia subfervens. They feed on bumelia and are very common visitors on our porch.

There were several other species higher up that I couldn't get good photographs of.  You might try leaving your porch light on to see what comes in.  We also find occasional wing fragments on the ground suggesting that we are feeding other wildlife.

Monday, May 1, 2023


Bull Mills derecho - May 8, 2009

Our own Master Naturalist and retired Springfield meteorologist, Drew Albert, offers a series of monthly columns in the Springfield Daily Citizen on weather trends in the Ozarks.  This month's column gives a great description of derechos and how they develop at this link.  The National Weather Service defines them here.

"A derecho (pronounced similar to "deh-REY-cho") is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Although a derecho can produce destruction similar to the strength of tornadoes, the damage typically is directed in one direction along a relatively straight swath. As a result, the term "straight-line wind damage" sometimes is used to describe derecho damage. By definition, if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length, then the event may be classified as a derecho."

Some of you may recall the major derecho that swept through the Ozarks on May 8, 2009 which is written up on here on Wikipedia. Here is his description of the storm when it moved east into the Springfield area.  The pictures here are from our forest above Bull Creek at that time. 

Root wad 6' tall
"Storms shifted east into the Springfield area by around 8 a.m. with continued fury. In addition to the wind gusts up to 90 mph along the leading edge of the storms, a small-scale circulation known as a mesoscale convective vortex (MCV) developed, which aided in producing additional intense storm activity including strong winds, large hail, and tornadoes. This feature prolonged the period of damaging winds by an hour in some cases. Like the Joplin area, damage to homes was common, and widespread power outages occurred."


We had major damage, especially to large trees on the ridges.  A striking feature is whether trees were broken trunks or uprooted, they all fell in exactly the same direction.  There were over 60 trees downed that were 12" or greater in diameter.  Younger trees with diameters less that 10" tended to survive the straight line winds, protected by their taller neighbors.  It was difficult to walk through the forest and my chainsaw and tractor worked there for several years simply clearing the trails.  

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

Five years later in 2014, I contacted Frances Main, our MDC forester, looking for some way of using the downed wood.  Most of it was a half mile up a rather steep trail, a challenge to most vehicles.  She got me in touch with Ed Hultgren and a crew of volunteer wood cutters which does charity wood harvests.

They would donate their time to cut, split and deliver firewood to families that heat with wood but have neither the source or the financial resources to obtain fuel at the present.  They had been collecting our downed wood now for several years.  This year he and Steve Prine planned a big charity harvest and coincidentally there was a sudden shortage of propane for heating throughout the area.

Young work horse
Saturday was the big day, with around 14 wood cutters arriving from Cabool, Carthage, Arkansas, Mississippi, and four "Okies from Muskogee," many of whom were professional timbermen.  I use the term Okies with the greatest respect as they were great guys, big, strong and especially because all of them were holding chainsaws They brought four powerful wood splitters, a UTV with a power dump back, and an unbelievable collection of chain saws.  Four of them brought their kids who worked hard hauling wood to the splitters and moving the split wood onto the six big trailers Ed had borrowed.

When Steve said he would bring a "collection of saws," Barb said he just meant backup saws as "no one would collect chainsaws."  Knowing "men and boys and the price of their toys" in a world where Harbor Freight acts as an adult Toys-R-Us, I respectfully disagreed.  It turns out that for once I was right.  Steve alone has over 90, most of which are operational. Almost everyone there collected chainsaws to some degree and all had several brands on hand, both modern and historic, switching between them just for fun.

A real man's chainsaw
We had a lot of logs previously hauled out of the woods by tractor, enough to keep them busy I thought.  This backlog lasted until about 11 AM and from then on we were dragging logs out as crews plunged into the woods with abandon. Several dead trees were felled, always leaving lots standing as future housing for wildlife.

They harvested 7 huge trailers full of split firewood as well as other large piles which would be loaded onto the trailers once they are emptied.  By late afternoon several loads had been delivered to families which heat with wood but don't have the resources to obtain wood or buy it.  With a sudden shortage of propane, the timing couldn't be better.  For that reason, to my surprise, KY3 showed up to film the event, arranged for by the organizers of the cut, Steve Prine and Ed Hultgren.

Ordinarily I enjoy running a chainsaw and cutting up logs but that Saturday my role was as the greeter, photographer, and chief log-dragger using my tractor to back into the woods and drag out logs to the cutters and splitters.  Besides, I was a little embarrassed displaying my "little" Stihl 260 saws which looked like they were made by Mattel compared to their monsters.

Homemade splitter

The boys were cute and hard working, hauling cut logs that I would find intimidating. Each had his dad's work ethic with a little mischief thrown in.  There were undoubtedly a lot of snoring kids headed toward Muskogee and Cabool that night.

By Tuesday morning, 8 loads had been delivered to families in need, and the wood pictured below is some of the next loads which are being scheduled.  Ed's crews have delivered 693 pickup truck loads in the last 5 years as the program has grown and I can't guess at how many they packaged that Saturday.

You can see more on the 2014 firewood harvest in this KY3 video news report.  There is one error in the video- no firewood was sold, only delivered by volunteers to those in need.

Here is Drew Albert's personal story on the 2009 storm. 
"I was home on a day off on Friday morning.  I had worked an overnight shift the morning before.  Because my sleep schedule was off, I got up at 5AM and watched this storm roll in.  When I saw the wind reports at Joplin I filled the tub and large containers with water and moved the car to an open spot away from trees.
We were lucky because our house sits in some lower terrain, we had no roof damage. All our neighbors had at least some. No power until sometime the next day. The bad news was three large trees fell and blocked our way out to the road. Chain saws came out, but it took until afternoon before we and our two neighbors could get out."

If you didn't read Drew's Springfield Daily Citizen column on derechos and how they form at the start of this blog, here is the link again.  SDC link.


More on the subject at these links from Drew.

Good video from an eye witness: Derecho Tales - Logger Larry May survives tornado - YouTube
And an excellent article here: (