Hope

So often, it really is all about who you know.

For the past several years, a number of civic and community groups here in North Alabama have worked together to conduct an annual Festival of the Cranes.  The folks out at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the International Crane Foundation, a few different visitors bureaus, and several other groups: They all work together to make this event happen.

The cranes?  Every winter, North Alabama is home to thousands of sandhill cranes, as well as a tiny contingent of the critically imperiled whooping cranes.  These incredible birds winter here, arriving in the late fall and heading back to the north in early spring.

Several festival events each year feature a special guest, via the International Crane Foundation.  Hope, an eight-feet-tall whooping crane created by the Jim Henson company, is always a crowd pleaser. Standing well above the heads of any crowd, she moves silently with her wings either outstretched, tucked into her sides, or flapping gently with their black tips moving in the breeze.

Because of her popularity, I was surprised to be a part of a group email from Hope’s handler/manager/coordinator a week or so before this year’s event. The reason for the email: Hope’s regular puppeteer wasn’t available, and a replacement was needed. 

“Does anyone know someone who could help?”

Being well over six feet tall myself, I knew I couldn’t do it (not to mention I don’t think the black leggings would fit me), but did I know someone who could?  Did I ever.

Flashback: One of my favorite memories of this sort of thing took place some five or six years ago when there was a Crane Festival event at the local botanical garden.  I laughed and laughed as my wife, Lisa, had the most fun following Hope as she left the room at the end of the event.  

Hope walked with her characteristic wading-bird-pick-up-your-feet walk, and Lisa followed her, lifting her feet the same way.  

Hope’s wings fluttered gracefully, and Lisa’s arms did the same.

Hope’s body moved up and down as her knees bent with each step, and Lisa’s body did the same.

All these years later, the stars aligned, everything fell into place, and I have new favorite memories of Hope.

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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