The Details

Fungus and moss growing on a decaying stick in the woods
There is beauty in the details.

The winter forest in north Alabama is a beautiful place.  Different, but beautiful.

It’s different, I should say, from the summer forest, which, I should add, is also a beautiful place.  Beautiful, but different.

Truthfully, the winter forest when viewed from a distance is sort of monochromatic.  Lots of browns, with the occasional splash of green from a pine tree or an evergreen privet or honeysuckle bush. 

The deciduous forest has dropped its leaves, and the trees stand silent and still with nothing on their branches to catch the wind.

Ah, but the details.  The details are gorgeous if one looks closely enough. 

The mosses, tiny in stature, seem greener than green as they absorb the sunlight they’re deprived of when the trees above them are in leaf.

The mushrooms and other fungus glow orange, red, and yellow, their colors in brilliant contrast to the browns behind them.

The woodpeckers and cardinals that flit from tree to tree, their red feathers visible from a tremendous distance.

Finally, the blue sky above and the yellow-orange sun sitting low in the southern sky.

The details, indeed, are gorgeous if one looks closely enough.

Mystery Solved!

It turns out those little holes are drilled by a weevil.  An acorn weevil, specifically.  You know, those little holes in, well, acorns.  

Until recently, I didn’t know that.

The cause of those tiny openings has been a mystery to me for the longest time.  Sure, it’s been one of those mysteries that could be solved with a simple internet search, but, as is so often the case, when I’ve thought to search I’ve been away from a computer, and when I’m with a computer I don’t think to search.  Classic situation.

Anyway, I just recently came across the answer, and I wasn’t even looking for it.  The page was turned, and there it was.  The book in hand was Douglas Tallamy’s The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees.  The acorn weevil and its life cycle is addressed in “November,” the second chapter in the book. 

The acorn weevil, I learned, is a small insect with an endearingly long rostrum, nearly the length of its body, that it uses to chew a small hole in an acorn.  It then lays an egg or two in the hole, plugs the opening with dung, and moves on to the next acorn to repeat the process.  

After hatching a few days later, the weevil larva burrows into and eats from the acorn until the nut drops in the fall.  It leaves through hole in which its egg was first introduced, and burrows into the ground where it stays for a year or two before emerging as an adult to repeat the process with its own offspring.

As is the case with most insects, the weevil’s survival strategy as a species is based on quantity: Acorn weevils lay a lot of eggs in a lot of acorns.

As is the case with most trees, the oak’s survival strategy as a species is based on quantity: Oak trees produce a lot of acorns, only some of which are destined to be a weevil nursery.

A quick aside: What do bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and a host of other backyard birds have in common?  They’re all insect eaters!  Each of these birds would love nothing more than to find a juicy caterpillar, a scurrying beetle, or – yes – a long-nosed acorn weevil crawling along a tree branch.  

These beloved birds need the acorn weevil for their own survival, so it’s a good thing there are so many of them available to meet for lunch.

—–

I really like birds, so I have to confess I felt a pang of dismay when I went to the Internet to learn more about the acorn weevil.

Stick with me – I’m about to explain.

A search for “acorn weevil” brings up a number of sites providing information on “pest control” for the homeowner.  

Deep sigh.

You see, the thing is, the acorn weevil doesn’t harm the tree.  The acorn, yes, but not the tree.  Unless you’re one of a very few people who use acorns to make flour, it’s just not a big deal to leave the bugs alone.  

The bluejays will thank you.

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