Rain on Russell Mountain

Hiking buddy Rich and I have already hiked the entirety of the Ozark Trail, doing so in 5–15 mile segments from 1996 through 2015. Since then, we have been redoing some other the segments in the reverse direction from the first time, the eventual goal thus being to hike the entirety of the Ozark Trail in both directions. Today was a small contribution to that goal, in which we did the short section between the fire tower at Taum Sauk State Park (containing Missouri’s highest point at 1,772’ asl) and Russell Mountain.

Raindrop prism.

The forecast was not promising, with steady rain predicted and temperatures remaining in the 30s. Still, Rich and I are not prone to cancelling a hike due to less than ideal conditions, so we arrived at Taum Sauk Mountain mid-morning despite the periodic rain and decided to give it a go. It was a good decision—our rain jackets and warm underlayers kept us confortable, and we were rewarded for our tenacity with an serenely beautiful look at the craggy, water-soaked landscape.

Young Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern), Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen), a fruticose lichen, and Polytrichum commune (common haircap moss) in dry-mesic upland deciduous igneous forest.

It was slow going as we both forgot our hiking sticks, forcing us to more deliberately choose our footing on the rugged, rocky, boulder-strewn trail. Normally on a winter hike, it is the buds, bark, and remnant leaves that I pay attention to as I strive to identify the component trees comprising the forest around me. Today, however, with intermittent light rain, heavy moisture-laden air, and our eyes mostly looking downward to choose our next footstep, it was the ferns, mosses, and lichens—bright green and water-swollen—that captured our attention.

Closeup of Polytrichum commune (common haircap moss) and a fruticose lichen from previous photo.

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) dotted the forest floor and along the trail. Most of the plants we saw were older, their fronds and pinnae ragged and tattered. A young individual, however, captured our eye, partly because of its fresh, bright green foliage and partly because of the close association with Polytrichum commune (common haircap moss), Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen), and an unidentified fruticose lichen—a natural mini-terrarium.

Closeup of young Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) from previous photo.

Further along the trail, a patch of Thuidium delicatulum (delicate fern moss) was found thriving in the cold, wet conditions. As the name suggests, the leaves of this moss resemble the fronds of a small fern but form colonial mats rather than arising from a basal rosette as in true ferns. Wet conditions such as existed today are ideal for seeing this moss in its most attractive state—under dry conditions, the leaves are more appressed and contracted against the central stems.

Thuidium delicatulum (delicate fern moss) growing trailside in dry-mesic upland deciduous igneous forest.

As we descended the hillside, running water could be heard in the distance, suggesting we would be treated to the sight of a waterfall. At the bottom, the normally dry creek ran full, water crashing over the rhyolite boulders strewn further up the ravine and gushing down below us. Some careful footwork was required to scale the hillside off-trail to reach the water’s edge and get a closeup and personal view, but experience made the careful footwork down the hillside and back up well worth the effort.

Rain-swollen creek.

Approaching the glades on Russell Mountain, the diversity of conspicuously green lichens and mosses immediately caught our attention. The normally xeric landscape was lush and moist—water pooling in depressions of the exposed rhyolite bedrock and stream over its slopes in sheets. Beds of Polytrichum commune (common haircap moss) colonized the edges of exposed bedrock, forming extensive mats of turgid, bright green, bristly vertical stems that looked like miniature primordial forests. Like Thuidium delicatulum (delicate fern moss), this moss also is more attractive when moist, its leaves widely spreading and straight, while in dry conditions they are erect with their tips often recurved.

Polytrichum commune (common haircap moss) on exposed rhyolite in the glade.

The final leg of the hike took us through the scenic rhyolite glades (more properly called xeric rhyolite prairie) between the Ozark Trail and the Russell Mountain Trailhead. Normally, the glades are a harsh habitat—dry grasses crackling underfoot amid the searing heat and the surrounding forest of Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) and Carya ovata (shagbark hickory) stunted and open. Today, however, dense fog, heavy air, and water running over every surface made the glade seem mysteriously soft and gentle.

Fog settles over the glade.

The exposed rhyolite bedrock here represents remnants of volcanic rock formed 1.5 billion years ago. Representing one of the oldest continuously exposed landforms in North America, these craggy hills are but mere nubs of mountains that soared 15,000 feet above the salty Cambrian waters that lapped at their feet. It is only reasonable that these ancient rocks should be so heavily colonized by lichens—ancient life forms themselves resulting from a symbiotic association between fungi and a photosynthetic partner, usually algae or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).

Exposed rhyolite heavily colonized by foliose and fruticose lichens and mosses.

Like the previously seen mosses, rain brings out the best in lichen attractiveness—their hydrated tissues at their brightest and most colorful. A number of fruticose and foliose lichens can be found intermingling in the exposed rhyolite surfaces, with Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen) being one of the most conspicuous examples of the latter.

Foliose and fruticose lichens, including Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen) in the foreground, co-mingle on the exposed rhyolite.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Botanizing at Elephant Rocks State Park

Granite “elephants” at Elephant Rocks State Park.

After missing the past three weeks, I was finally able to rejoin the Webster Groves Nature Study Society Botany Group for their weekly Monday outing. It was a good outing for making my return, as the group visited one of Missouri’s most famous and unusual landmarks—Elephant Rocks State Park—on what turned out to be a sunny day with unseasonably balmy conditions. Located in Acadia Valley in the heart of the St. Francois Mountains, the park is named for its main feature—one of the mid-continent’s best examples of an unusual geological feature known as a “tor.” These piles of rounded, weathered granite boulders sitting atop a bedrock mass of the same rock resemble groups of elephants lumbering across the landscape. First shaped underground in 1.5-billion-year-old granite as vertical and horizontal fractures developed in the rock and percolating water softened and degraded the rock adjacent to the cracks, the “core stones” were eventually exposed as erosion removed the overlying layers and the disintegrated rock surround the fractures, exposing the giant boulders at the surface.

Granite boulder-strewn dry-mesic upland deciduous forest.

The group explored the area along the Braille Trail, which passes through dry-mesic upland deciduous forest as it circumnavigates the tor. Oaks and hickories—primarily Quercus alba (white oak), post oak (Q. stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), Carya ovata (shagbark hickory), and C. glabra (pignut hickory)—dominate the canopy, while the understory featured Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw), Cornus florida (flowering dogwood), Prunus serotina (black cherry). Unusually abundant also was Nyssa sylvatica (black or sour gum). This small tree reaches its northern limit of distribution near St. Louis, Missouri but is more common further south. Winter bud skills are necessary to recognize the species at this time of year, which can be recognized by their alternate arrangement with three reddish-brown scales and three bundle scars. The leaves of this tree turn a brilliant red in the fall, making them desirable for landscape planting.

Nyssa sylvatica (black gum) winter buds.

Like Nyssa sylvatica, Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw) is also most common south of the Missouri River. However, in contrast to the former, the winter buds of the latter are immediately recognizable by their dark rusty-colored “velvety” buds and opposite arrangement. The tree we saw at the beginning of today’s outing was also heavily laden with fruits, a dark blue-black pruinose drupe.

Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw) winter bud.
Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw) fruits.

As we examined the blackhaw tree, we noticed a robust vine entwining its trunk and ascending high into the canopy above. Heavily laden along its length was a crop of fruits that immediately identified the vine as Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet). This native species can be distinguished from the introduced C. orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet) at this time of year by its terminal fruits with orange instead of yellow dehiscing valves.

Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) vine climbing Viburnum rufidulum (rusty blackhaw).
Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet) fruits.

The “fruit” theme of the day continued as we veered off the path to look at a rather magnificent specimen of Quercus marilandica (blackjack oak) and saw yet another vine bearing fruit inside its canopy. The opposite leaf remnants had us quickly thinking of some type of honeysuckle (genus Lonicera), and we arrived at Lonicera sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle) once we noticed the fused perfoliate leaf pairs directly behind the fruits. This native honeysuckle is a desirable species and not to be confused with any of the several invasive introduced species of honeysuckle that can now be found in Missouri.

Lonicera sempervirens (trumpet honeysuckle) fruits.

Another honeysuckle relative, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry), was heavily laden with fruit in the shrub layer. Like Lonicera sempervirens, this species is also native to Missouri and should not be confused with the invasive introduced species—especially Lonicera mackii (bush honeysuckle), which it superficially resembles but can be immediately distinguished from during this time of year by its uniquely coral-colored fruits.

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) fruits.

As the Braille Trail wrapped around the eastern side of its loop, we passed by a pile of granite boulders—obvious rubble fragments from the quarrying days of the area’s earlier history due to their sharp, angular shapes. Drill holes could be seen in and around the margins of some of the fragments, providing more evidence of their provenance from rock splitting operations before their eventual abandonment, perhaps not being of sufficient quality to warrant further cutting and shaping into building blocks or paving stones before shipment to St. Louis. Lichens growing sparingly on the cut faces indicated that some amount of time had passed since the stone had been cut, but it was a mere fraction of time compared to the densely colonized original exposed surfaces.

Granite rubble showing drill holes along margins.
Drill hole in granite bolder from quarrying.

Lichens were not the only forms of life taking advantage of new habitat created by past quarrying activities. Two species of ferns were found growing in protected crevices between the boulders, especially those where water was able to collect or seep from. The first was Asplenium platyneuron (ebony spleenwort), with only sterile fronds present but distinguished by the shiny dark rachis (stem) and stipe (stem base) and alternate, basally auriculate (lobed) pinnae (leaflets). The second was at first thought to be another species of Asplenium, possibly A. trichomanes (maidenhair spleenwort), but later determined to be Woodsia obtusa (common woodsia) by virtue of its all green rachis and stipe and much more highly dissected pinnae arranged very nearly opposite on the rachis. We later found the two species again growing close to each other right along the trail—completely unnoticed despite the group having passed them three times already (i.e., 25 person passes!).

Asplenium platyneuron (ebony spleenwort) sterile fronds.
Woodsia obtusa (common woodsia) sterile fronds.

A short spur took us to the Engine House ruin—originally built to repair train engines and cars; its granite skeleton still in good condition—before passing by the park’s main geological attraction: the central tor with its famous “elephants”! Standing atop the exposed granite and boulders, I try to let my mind go back half a billion years—an utterly incomprehensible span of time—when the boulders before me are still part of a giant submerged batholith underneath volcanic peaks soaring 15,000 above the Precambrian ocean lapping at their feet; life already a billion years old and dizzyingly diverse yet still confined to those salty waters.

Engine House ruin.
Exposed granite bedrock.
This formation—a stack or pile of rounded, weathered granite boulders sitting atop a bedrock mass of the same rock—is called a “tor.”
Vertical cracks in the bedrock erode into narrow gaps once exposed by erosion.

The landscape atop the tor seems sterile and barren, but like the rubble piles below it’s cracks and crevices abound with life. An especially fruticose stand of Vaccinium arboreum (farkleberry) found refuge in a protected area among some of the bigger boulders, their dark blue fruits continuing the “berry” theme of the day and providing an opportunity for the group to sample their flavor and compare to its cultivated blueberry cousins (I found their flavor to be quite pleasing, if somewhat subdued compared to what is my favorite fruit of all). Vaccinium arboreum is the largest of the three species in the genus occurring in Missouri, and the woody stems of larger plants make it quite unmistakable. Smaller plants, however, can be difficult to distinguish from the two other species, in which case the leaf venation can be used—that of V. arboreum being very open. This is another species that finds itself at the northwestern limit of its distribution in the craggy hills of the Ozark Highlands, where it shows a distinct preference for the dry acidic soils found in upland forests overlying igneous or sandstone bedrocks.

Vaccinium arboreum (farkleberry) fruits.
Vaccinium arboreum (farkleberry) leaf.

Despite this being a botany group outing, I rarely manage to go the entire time go by without finding and pointing out at least one interesting insect. Today, it was an adult Chilocorus stigma (twice-stabbed ladybird beetle) sitting on a Nyssa sylvatica trunk. This is a native ladybird, not to be confused with the introduced and now notorious Harmonia axyridis (Asian ladybird beetle), that lives primarily in forest habitats and is generally considered to be a beneficial species (although not sold for commercial use in orchards or on farms).

Chilocorus stigma (twice-stabbed ladybird beetle).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Crane flies are insects…

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid).

…but craneflies are plants—specifically, orchids, or Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid).* This past August, the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group traveled to the Mississippi Lowlands of southeastern Missouri to look for two species of native orchids, this being one of them. They were not easy to find—even with a location tip, it took a group effort to find them. But persistence paid off, and we found a patch with about 20 individual plants, most in full bloom and a few slightly past.

*One little known “rule” about common names is that the adjective and object (in this case, “crane” being the adjective” and “fly” being the “object”) are separated when the object is true and combined when the object is false or used together as an adjective for another object. Thus, flies in the family Tipulidae are called “crane flies,” because they truly are flies, while orchids of the genus Tipularia are called “cranefly” orchids because they are truly not flies and together form an adjective. Butterfly, dragonfly, and ladybug are examples of straight false objects (thus, for which the common names are compound words), while honey bee, house fly, and assassin bug are further examples of true objects (thus, for which the common names are not compound words).

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid).

Everybody who has ever seen this orchid talks about how hard they are to see (despite their relatively tall stature), yet nothing prepares you for just how remarkably difficult they are to see until you encounter them yourself for the first time! I believe this is because of the environment they are in—a dimly-lit forest with dappled light—combined with the lack of contrasting colors on the plants themselves.

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid).

This species was not reported from Missouri until 1983, relatively recent, and while for a time it remained known in state only from the southeastern lowlands, it has more recently been reported from several counties across southern Missouri as far northwest as Hickory County. Considering how difficult the plants can be to see, it is tempting to think that this is simply a case of underreporting, but to the contrary the same phenomenon has been observed in Illinois and other states at the edge of its range, leading most botanists to conclude that the species is actually expanding its range. Of course, why this is occurring is anybody’s guess, but it is somewhat satisfying to see at least one native orchid doing well while many others are in decline.

Known distribution of Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid). Source: BONAP (2014).

I was extremely fortunate in that I did not end up with a bad case of poison ivy as a result of photographing these plants!

Photo by Kathy Bildner.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Hiking at Don Robinson State Park

Don Robinson State Park comprises and protects much of the upper watershed of LaBarque Creek in northwestern Jefferson Co.—one of east-central Missouri’s most pristine and ecologically significant watersheds. The St. Peter’s sandstone bedrock underlying the area features box canyons, shelter caves, cliffs, and glades amidst high-quality upland and lowland deciduous forests. The property was originally purchased in the 1960s by businessman Don Robinson, who’s dream was to have a personal sanctuary as large as New York’s Central Park. Through his generosity, the property was bequeathed to the state to become part of Missouri’s state park system following his death a half-century later. The park opened to the public in 2017 and offers some of the highest-quality hiking trails within an hour’s drive from St. Louis. For those interested in more detail regarding the watershed’s geology, ecology, and conservation, an excellent summary can be found in the recently issued LaBarque Creek Watershed Conservation Plan by Friends of LaBarque Creek Watershed.

Here are a few photos from along the Sandstone Canyon Trail.

Rich photographs a box canyon on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Box canyon on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Box canyon on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Box canyon on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Box canyon on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Sandstone bluffs on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Sandstone bluffs on the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
Armillaria gallica (bulbous honey mushroom)? Growing from woodpecker damage on living Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam) in mesic upland deciduous forest.
I’ve never seen a mushroom growing out of a woodpecker hole.
This fungus lives as a saprobe or opportunistic parasite in weakened tree hosts and can cause root or butt rot.

The flora along the riparian corridor inside the box canyons was of particular interest to me, as it contained nice stands of three tree species of note: Betula nigra (river birch), Ostrya virginiana (eastern hop hornbeam), and Carpinus caroliniana (blue beech, musclewood, American hornbeam). All three species belong to the family Betulaceae and have been associated with some interesting woodboring beetle species in Missouri. I have reared large series of Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) cyanella from fallen branches of B. nigra (both blue and bronze color forms—see MacRae 2006), and in the course of doing so I also reared a series of an Agrilus species that turned out to be undescribed (to which I later gave the name Agrilus betulanigrae—see MacRae 2003). From O. virginiana, I have reared two specimens of Agrilus champlaini from galls on living trees (still the only known Missouri specimens of this species—see MacRae 1991). Finally, from dead branches of C. caroliniana, I have reared Agrilus ohioensis (see Nelson & MacRae 1990), and from a larger, punkier dead branch I reared a single Trachysida mutabilis—this also still the only known specimen from Missouri (see MacRae & Rice 2007). I think I’ll go back in late winter to early spring and see if I can find dead branches of each to place in rearing boxes or perhaps girdle some branches to leave in situ for a season before retrieving and placing in rearing boxes. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky with additional new finds.

References

MacRae, T. C. 1991. The Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of Missouri. Insecta Mundi 5(2):101–126.

MacRae, T. C. 2003. Agrilus (s. str.) betulanigrae MacRae (Coleoptera: Buprestidae), a new species from North America, with comments on subgeneric placement and a key to the otiosus species-group in North America. Zootaxa 380:1–9.

MacRae, T. C. 2006. Distributional and biological notes on North American Buprestidae (Coleoptera), with comments on variation in Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) cyanella Gory and A. (H.) viridifrons Gory. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 82(2):166–199.

MacRae, T. C. & M. E. Rice. 2007. Biological and distributional observations on North American Cerambycidae (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 61(2):227–263.

Nelson, G. H. & T. C. MacRae. 1990. Additional notes on the biology and distribution of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) in North America, Part III. The Coleopterists Bulletin 44:349–354.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

It’s a woman’s world

Galls of Disholcaspis quercusglobulus (round bullet gall wasp) on twig of Quercus alba (white oak).

Not all gall wasps (family Cynipidae) affect the leaves of their hosts—some instead affect the twigs. One example of such is Disholcaspis quercusglobulus (round bullet gall wasp), which forms round, detachable galls, singly or in small clusters, on the twigs of Quercus alba (white oak).

There are about a dozen other species in this genus, all of which seem to to have succeeded in eliminating the need for males (Weld 1959). All galls produce female wasps, which emerge from their galls during the fall and immediately lay eggs in twigs to begin the next year’s crop of females—no males needed. Ain’t evolution grand?!

Literature Cited

Weld, D. 1959. Cynipid Galls of the Eastern United States. Privately printed in Ann Arbor, Michigan [pdf].

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Hughes Mountain redux

Despite the relatively long drive from St. Louis, a healthy group of 15 showed up for this past Monday’s WGNSS Botany Group outing at Hughes Mountain Natural Area; participation no doubt helped out by a spectacular forecast (sunny with highs in the 70s) and near-peak fall colors. Hughes Mountain is situated in the northern portion of the St. Francois Mountains. At its summit is Devil’s Honeycomb—a barren expanse of uniquely fractured Precambrian rhyolite formed by the gradual cooling of magma inside a volcano that was then exposed over 1.5 billion years of erosion. Devil’s Honeycomb is one of Missouri’s geologic wonders, and it’s rocks are among the oldest exposed rocks in all of North America.

Devil’s Honeycomb, summit of Hughes Mountain.

Rocks are not the only items of interest here; the igneous substrate results in acidic conditions that affect the flora in equally interesting ways. This is most pronounced in the igneous “glades” (more properly called xeric igneous prairies) where the soils are too thin and conditions too dry to support the growth of trees, offering refugia for grasses and other herbaceous plants more typical of the western grasslands to persist. Surrounding the glades are dry and dry-mesic upland deciduous forests of oak and hickory featuring a rich shrub layer and open woodland-adapted herbaceous plants.

Beginning on the trail from the parking lot, John Oliver pointed out a stand of tall, now leafless sumacs which nearly everybody (including this author) assumed to be Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) due to their size. In fact, despite their size, they proved to be R. copallinum (winged sumac), with the ID confirmed by a few persisting leaves and their distinctive axial “wings.” John pointed out that an easy winter ID tip for this species is the fruiting structures, which nod distinctively after first frost (those of R. glabra do not).

Post-frost “nodding” seed head of Rhus copallinum (winged sumac).

Ascending the trail through the dry-mesic forest towards the first set of glades, we noted the brilliant colors of small Acer rubrum (red maple) saplings in the understory. When their leaves finally drop, they will be more difficult to distinguish from A. saccharum; however, their rounded rather than elongated buds will still allow differentiation.

Acer rubrum (red maple).

Several of the oaks were examined, with most thinking they were largely Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) and Q. velutina (black oak)—both similar to each other but the latter bearing larger, grayer, pubescent, quadrangular terminal buds. Approaching the glades, Q. marilandica (blackjack oak), Carya texana (black hickory), and Ulmus alata (winged elm) became more abundant, all three much preferring the drier conditions found around the glade margins. An interesting feature of the latter (in addition to the distinctive, corky ridges on the twigs), is the leaves, which are smaller than those of most other elms but tend to grow larger towards the terminus of the twig. They also tend to be much less asymmetrical at their base than other elms.

Ulmus alata (winged elm) showing gradually larger leaves towards the twig terminus.

Very little was left in bloom, but the remnants of recent bloomers were still evident. Solidago petiolaris (downy goldenrod) and Symphyotrichum anomalum (many-rayed aster) were common along the trail and still recognizable, their showy flowers gone and replaced by developing seeds. Hieracium sp. prob. gronovii (beaked hawkweed) was found nestled among mosses perched on a rhyolite shelf, the flowers gone but the leaves still green and distinctively hairy. Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed) was found on the glades proper, most with their stems and leaves turning red but the occasional plant still green enough to allow crushing its stems and enjoying its orange-like fragrance. Bucking the trend, however, was a small patch of Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod), it’s yellow flowers fresh and bright in defiance of the calendar’s call to senescence. A small jumping spider in the genus Phidippus took advantage of the lingering greenery, hiding among the leaves in hopes of finding equally persistent prey.

Hieracium sp. prob. gronovii (beaked hawkweed).
Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod).
Phidippus sp. on Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod).

The benefits of management efforts by the Missouri Department of Conservation in the area’s forests were more evident than ever. Between the first set of glades and the main glades surrounding the summit, a rich shrub layer dominated by Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) stretched endlessly under an open woodland of oak and hickory, the latter turning the canopy bright yellow in vivid contrast to the orange and red shrub layer beneath. Such open woodlands were once common in pre-settlement Missouri but are now rare due to the elimination of fire in the landscape and its mediating impacts.

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac).

Entering the main glades, the group made their way up towards the summit and Devil’s Honeycomb, while Ted and Sharon stayed back to take a closer look at and photograph a robust colony of Cladonia cristellata (British soldiers) growing under Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar). Lichens, of course, are unique in the world of vegetation in that they are a composite organism—a fusion between a fungus and another organism (usually a green alga or cyanobacterium) capable of producing food via photosynthesis. None of these groups of organisms are considered plants in the modern sense, and, in fact, fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. Nevertheless, the convergence in appearance, habitat, and ecology of lichens with plants puts their study much more in the realm of botany than zoology.

Cladonia cristatella (British soldiers).
Cladonia cristatella (British soldiers).

The group arrived at the summit just in time to enjoy spectacular vistas under crystal blue skies with wisps of clouds and the balmiest temperatures one could possibly hope for in early November.

The group enjoys the view from the summit of Hughes Mountain.
L–R: Ted MacRae, Rich Thoma, Kathie Bildner, Michael Laschober, Tina Cheung, Kathy Thiele, Nancy Mathis, Sharon Lu, Alan Brant, Mark Peters, John Oliver, Larry Lindenberger, Burt Noll, Gwyn Wahlman, Keith Woodyard.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

A lot of gall

Walking Beau Diddley (my black lab) and blowing leaves today gave me an opportunity to glimpse into the world of leaf galls. Lots of organisms, both animal and disease, cause these bizarre structures to grow on the leaves and stems of various plants. In the case of the two shown here, they are cause by tiny wasps called cynipid gall wasps. There are thousands of different species of gall wasps, each creating their own characteristic type of gall and restricted to one or a few closely related host plants, but in each case the adult female wasp lays one or more eggs in the leaf—their “stinger” being used like a hypodermic needle to inject the eggs inside the leaf tissues (but completely unable to sting humans). When the eggs hatch, the larvae (called grubs) do not begin feeding directly on the existing leaf tissue, but instead secrete plant growth-like hormones that cause the plant to grow a specialized structure—called a gall—inside which the grub lives and feeds. It’s sort of like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on a micro-scale. When the grub has completed its development, it transforms into a pupa (kind of a wasp version of a butterfly chrysalis), and eventually the adult wasp emerges and chews its way out of the gall. It’s a marvelously elegant life cycle that goes unnoticed by most people.

Andricus dimorphus (clustered midrib gall wasp, family Cynipidae) on abaxial lower midrib of leaf of Quercus muhlenbergii (chinquapin oak).
Andricus pattoni (family Cynipidae) on abaxial leaf surface of Quercus stellata (post oak).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Beetle Collecting 101: Collection Space Saving Tip

In any insect collection, space is expensive and, thus, almost always at a premium—especially a large, self-funded, private collection such as mine. As a result, I am constantly looking for creative ways to maximize space efficiency. The photo here shows a technique I’ve adopted that works especially well for “leggy” beetles. Rather than lining them up “knee-to-knee” and wasting space between the specimens, I line them up “knee-to-elbow” by orienting every other specimen head downward. Of course, one can always simply tuck the legs and antennae underneath the body. However, this manner of mounting not only obscures the underside, but, in my opinion, looks rather sloppy and aesthetically unpleasing.

Unit trays of Plinthocoelium suaveolens.

I have a few other tricks I use to maximize not only space in my collection but also its athletics that I may show here in future posts. However, if you have tips and tricks of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021