It looked like an oversized green grape. It was sitting on the ground beneath a maple tree and near an oak. Pamelia saw it, picked it up and said, "Look at this."
The green orb was partly split. We gingerly pulled it open without causing further damage and saw some sort of seed inside. The seed appeared designed to be airborne. This all was a mystery. What was this strange pod and where had it come from?
I contacted some Notebook-friend nature experts and sent them photos. Biologist and naturalist Lynn Havsall came to my rescue. Here's the email she sent:
"This looks like an oak apple gall to me. Here's some info on the makers of these galls and their complicated life histories. http://minnesotaseasons.com/Insects/spongy_oak_apple_gall_wasp.html
"You are right that what's inside is destined to become airborne, not as a seed, but as a teeny tiny gall wasp. The cocoon is suspended in the center of the gall attached to all the spindly threads.
"Galls are amazing and come in a fantastic array of shapes, sizes and colors. Some are made by wasps, (there's a whole family of them, Cynipidae) others by moths and flies. There's a great variety of galls made on oaks, either leaves, twigs or acorns. See here to get an idea: http://bugguide.net/index.php?q=search&keys=oak+gall&search=Search
"When I was a young naturalist I thought it would be great fun and easy to learn all the galls and exactly who made them. So I collected lots of them to hatch them out. Then I learned about inquilines [animals that live in the nest, burrow or dwelling place of another without affecting the latter animal]. Seems even the fleas have fleas. A goldenrod gall that I knew was made by a moth hatched out into a wasp! Some insects parasitize other gall makers, so sometimes who hatches out is a surprise!
"Hope this helps. That's gall I can say."
I'll just add that I should have recognized the gall because we at the Notebook we sell handmade iron gall ink, which comes from oak galls. It's a storied type of ink—the same one used for writing and drawing by Bach, da Vinci, Rembrandt, van Gogh, the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the framers of the U.S. constitution.
Today's Maine Sighting: Turtles Laying Eggs Pamelia had her camera handy this morning when she passed three turtles laying eggs just a few feet from the edge of a paved road (and a few yards from a pond) on Mount Desert Island. I think they were snapping turtles. Please correct me if you're a herpetologist (someone who studies amphibians and reptiles).
I'm keeping the exact location of the egg-laying a secret out of respect to the turtles, but here are a few of Pamelia's photos:
Happy Birthdays to...
Barbara McClintock, one of the most important pioneers of genetic research, would have turned 110 today. In her studies of maize, she discovered, among other things, that genes can change position (causing mutations) and how genes turn physical characteristics on and off. She was the first American woman to win an unshared Nobel Prize, in 1983.
Archie Carr, a University of Florida biology professor whose work literally saved most species of sea turtles from extinction, would have been 103 today. Carr worked tirelessly to protect sea turtle breeding sites and reduce humans' slaughter of the animals.
The Notebook's Haley Harwood also has a birthday today. She's the inventor of Millie the Milkable Cow and another, top-secret interactive creature who'll be unveiled at the Notebook next week. Happy birthday to Haley from the rest of the Notebook gang!
Answer to the Last Puzzler Water molecules typically remain in a cloud no more than nine days.
1) What bird made the nest shown below, which was photographed this week by a sharp-eyed Notebook contributor in Vermont?
a) a Northern junco
b) a house wren
c) a tree swallow
2) Are turtles amphibians or reptiles?
3) The word herpetologist comes from a Latin verb meaning: a) to creep b) to have cold blood c) to frighten