Oak Galls: California Gall Wasps

“A green little world
With me at its heart!
A house grown by magic,
Of a green stem, a part.

My walls give me food
And protect me from foes,
I eat at my leisure,
In safety repose.

My house hath no window,
‘Tis dark as the night!
But I make me a door
And batten it tight.

And when my wings grow
I throw wide my door;
And to my green castle
I return nevermore.”

The above poem about galls is shared on page 338 of theHandbook of Nature Study.
We found this interesting object on our nature walk a few weeks ago. I knew it was called a gall but I wasn’t sure at all where it came from or what it was for. After doing some research intheHandbook of Nature Study, I now know a lot about these interesting little houses.

Here’s what it says on page 335:“There are many forms of these gall dwellings, and they may grow upon the root, branch, leaf, blossom, or fruit. The miraculous thing about them is that each kind of insect builds its magical house on a certain part of a certain species of tree or plant; and the house is always of a certain definite form on the outside and of a certain particular pattern within. Many widely differing species of insects are gall makers; and he who is skilled in gall lore knows, when he looks at the outside of the house, knows just what insect dwells within it.”

So now I know it is a home for an insect. I have grown up around these objects but have never taken the time to really get to know them. Here is some more on how they are formed.

From page 335-336“A little, four-winged, fly-like creature, a wasp, lays its eggs, early in the season, on the leaf of the scarlet oak. As soon as the larva hatches, it begins to eat into the substance of one of the leaf veins. As it eats, it discharges through its mouth into the tissues of the leaf a substance which is secreted from glands within its body. Immediately the building of the house commences; out around the little creature grow radiating vegetable fibers, showing by their position plainly that the grub is the center of all of this new growth; meanwhile, a smooth, thin covering completely encloses the globular house; larger and larger grows the house until we have what we are accustomed to call an oak apple, so large is it.”

Gall Study - Handbook of Nature Study

Where There is a Web: Fall Webworm

Yesterday we went looking for more insects in our backyard. We saw some more daddy longlegs…actually lots of daddy longlegs. We saw a tiny little spider on the marigolds but he would not hold still for a photo. I took this pretty photo of my marigold anyway. Look closely and you can see the pollen.

Then we found this wonderful web on the crepe myrtle bush. I looked high and low but did not see what made the web. After doing some research, I discovered this to be the web of a Fall Webworm or
Hyphantria cunea. In the larval stage, they create these great webs where they feed entirely inside the web. The adult is a moth that has white wings and has grayish-brown spotting on the forewings.


From page 295 of the Handbook of Nature Study:
“While the young pupils should not be drilled in insect anatomy as if they were embryo zoologists, yet it is necessary for the teacher who would teach intelligently to know something of the life stories, habits, and structure of the common insects.”

I am finding this to be essential to our study of insects. I need to know a little information about each thing we find and weave it into our study. It doesn’t take much time to open the Handbook of Nature Study, skim the table of contents, and turn to the page for more information. I am finding that just having read the introductory pages to the section on insects has provided more than enough information to get started.

From page 295:
“From the eggs, larvae (singular larva) issue. These larvae may be caterpillars, or the creatures commonly called worms, or perhaps maggots or grubs. The larval stage is devoted to feeding and to growth.”

Now I have a little vocabulary to use with the boys when we see caterpillars. I can point out that these are insects in their larval stage and their main objective in life is to eat. We can find this stage annoying when they are eating the leaves of our garden plants but we can understand a little more about it.

We observed a bee dancing in the pollen of a cosmos flower. He was digging into the pollen and practically rolling in it. Here is a slightly blurry photo of him…try to get a bee to sit still. You can see the pollen on his body.

My favorite photo of the day is this one. It is a close-up of my son’s dahlia flower. There had been a little insect on it that I was trying to capture but he was too quick.

Well, that is what we saw and observed yesterday. I am finding the more we look, the more we realize that we have to see.

Introduction to Insects

We are covering the introductory pages for insects this week. Let’s just say right now that I am *not* normally an insect sort of person. This is a new world for me as we embark on our study of insects.

From page 294:

“Insects are among the most interesting and available of all living creatures for nature study. The lives of many of them afford more interesting stories than are found in fairy lore; many of them show exquisite colors; and, most important of all, they are small and are, therefore, easily confined for observation.”

I am finding this to be the case in our everyday life…there are insects everywhere. The caterpillar above we found on our hike yesterday. The more we looked, the more we found. We think it is a wooly bear caterpillar which will transform into an Isabella Tiger Moth,Pyrrharctia isabella. We found this really cute website that talks about “How to Catch A Bear”. Next time we will be collecting one of the caterpillars and bringing it home to watch.

Edit: Since writing the above, I have found that I incorrectly identified the caterpillar in the photo above. It is a yellow woolly bear and is the larva of the Spotted Tussock Moth or Lophocampa maculata.
This photo is from a few years ago and it shows a little better what this little guy looks like. No wonder he is called “woolly”, he really is!

Here’s a photo from our travels yesterday…..the aspen trees are just starting to turn a golden yellow. We are hoping to drive this way again in a few weeks and see the reds and oranges of the trees too.