Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The gall!

I hold clear title for being The Noticer in this family.  Everybody else living here is busy with various incarnations of away games in their lives. My focus is not only closer to, but actually is home for the moment.  So it ought not come as any surprise that recently, while I was out doing, something, I can't even recall what my original intent was, my focus was completely hijacked when I noticed these:

And not just one.  After I saw the first one and moved closer to investigate, I discovered 6-8 mystery balls on a couple of volunteer red oaks out back. They weren't seed balls - oaks make acorns - they weren't fruit - I knew that much - but I had no idea what they were.  A little time on the internet and the mystery was solved.

These are oak galls, a response of the leaves of the plant to the stimulation of a gall-provoking insect in the larval stage.  Red oak galls are caused by the oak apple gall wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) so named because the largest round spongy balls look like lumpy apples on the tree.  Ours are smaller - more golf ball sized.

Of course I broke one open - I "had to" for research purposes.  The balls are filled with spongy fibers and actually crumble somewhat disconcertingly.   There was "something" in the middle (apparently the larvae) and it looked like it moved. At that point I got the willies and unscientifically tossed my research subject aside.

Then I went inside and washed my hands.  Twice.

According to the interweb, leaf galls won't kill a tree though in numbers they can cause early leaf drop.  The wasps don't sting humans (an admirable quality) and the vacated galls (those not dropped abruptly to the ground) often host other beneficial insects.
Now I'm keeping an eye out to see if I can spot any other gall producers at work around the yard.  We have several host plants at play in our spaces, and I have a reputation to protect.  Also - don't you just love that name? Amphibolips!?  I need look no further for the next slightly insulting nickname to toss into casual conversation.  Ain't science grand!

PS:  I visited my go-to site for all things buggy (BugGuide) and discovered my trusted experts did not have one single image available for the oak apple gall wasp.  Gasp!  Challenge, accepted...


Debra said...

Well, that is a weird synchronicity because just this morning my husband asked if we had any galls on our oak tree. He has suddenly started collecting fountain pans and thought it would be fun if we could make some homemade ink. I did point out that we most certainly do have PECANS which also can be used for dye but nooo he was more interested in oak galls .... Thanks for showing me what to look for =)

TexasDeb said...

Debra: I'd mention how great minds work alike but you already knew that...

If your Hub can use red oak apple galls he is welcome to some of ours. And...we have tons of live oak galls. OK, pounds. But a lot! He can come gather up as many as he wants as long as I get to see a sampling of the ink he produces. That sounds very cool.

Tina said...

I've always found galls oddly beautiful--they remind me of nature's version of those wonky rubber ball--round, but indented all over. It's interesting that you couldn't find any photos on your go-to site--that seems weird, but your photos were great.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thanks lady! I'm with you - I think galls are weirdly great, but then I think ball moss is splendid and lichen is gorgeous.

The BugGuide folk had images of everything but the wasp itself. Not sure if it is that tiny or has a brief life span or just escapes the interest of most. I was tempted to put a gall in a jar to see what hatches but I went and stretched out on my bed until the feeling passed.