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Keeping Warm Insect Style

Posted by on January 31, 2010

Went tromping about Saturday, thinking it would be great if I could find some clear tracks of deer in the snow or any other animals. It actually doesn’t snow that much around here anymore and I wanted to get pictures of different tracks while I could. This was  nice deep snow. But there weren’t many tracks. There were some very small ones just outside the front door, probably a field mouse. Did find some deer tracks, but they were vague, filled in with snow, thus probably made the previous night when it was still snowing. Not clear enough for a good photo. Tracks would have to wait.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

 So I went to check on the cream false indigo (Baptisia bracteata). When the foliage died and dried in September, there were a large number of seed pods. I was wondering how many might have lasted intact or whether the birds or ground had claimed them all. But when I got to it, there were only a few branches sticking up through the snow. Bending over to scoop away the snow, I noticed a couple of odd shapes on the stems of a nearby bramble. Taking a closer look, they seemed similar to oak galls, but bigger. And I wondered, “What is inside of that?”  There were two of them, so I clipped one of them, deciding to use it as an excuse to go inside and warm my feet.


c 2010 SJ Nelson

After warming cold fingers as well as toes, I gather supplies: card stock, sharp hobby knife, 10x magnifier. With those all together on the kitchen table, underneath good light, I went about the task of looking inside. The first step was to remove it from the stem. Easy. Held the stem in one hand avoiding thorns, grasped top of capsule with the other and pulled it away from stem. It peeled off with just a little effort.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

c 2010 SJ Nelson

Then came cutting it open. Looked easy, looked to just be a series of air bubbles, similar to foam, but stiff. Boy, did I underestimate its strength. This was not easy. It was a new blade in the knife, but it had a real problem cutting through this material. It was very tough. I had to use considerable force to gradually cut through it. Also I didn’t know if I would come to a single chamber with an egg or larvae or what, so I didn’t want to go too fast. Finally reaching the center, I discovered a mass of eggs. It was good I had only taken one capsule for their was no way to avoid cutting through the egg mass. That revealed however, that the  larvae had not yet begun to form and despite the below freezing temperatures, the eggs had not frozen. All those air bubbles in the capsule combined with tough walls, made the perfect insulation.

c 2010 SJ Nelson

Looking closely, the shape of the egg chambers appeared similar to a honeycomb, not round, but with five sides. There appeared to be two layers, but there was no way to get an accurate count of the eggs. The question now was, “what insect laid these eggs.” Knowing what other insects do, which is to usually lay their eggs on a plant or location near the larvae’s food source,  it is most likely an insect that loves brambles. But what part of the brambles, the leaves, roots, stems, flowers or fruit. A quick search of information about the insects that love either blackberries or dew berries, didn’t reveal any that laid eggs in this manner. There were some insects where the information about how and where they laid their eggs was not mentioned. So the search for that information continues. Then, there is that remaining egg capsule.  I will have to set up a schedule of regular monitoring to see what if anything hatches this spring.

First posted 1/13/2010  ©2010 SJ Nelson

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