Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exciting Discovery on My Favorite Trees

Had a fun geometry class today and took some photos of my students' projects. Expected them to be the subject of my last post for September. However, a friend who's familiar with my photos of bugs e-mailed me about a "swarm" of some beautiful, strange bugs on her oak trees. She asked if I'd come out and take a look. So, I drove up on her hill overlooking Thompson Valley, east of Quincy, and found her home in a great grove of California Black Oak. Sure enough, on the lower branches there were several clusters of these bugs along the twigs, but not on the leaves. Each cluster seemed to be overseen by a mama with the rest being nymphs in several earlier stages of development. Their aggregations reminded me of the way aphids are often herded together along plant stems by certain species of ants. I immediately recognized the body type as kin to the leafhoppers, although previously I had only seen plain green or brown ones. The adults of this critter had either orange spots or red stripes and their wings covered their abdomens. The immature ones had black and white stripes and their wings did not cover their abdomens.
They were very small, so I decided to empty out my container of colored pencils and use it to bring home a bunch of these interesting insects. According to my John Muir Laws field guide, these were Oak Treehoppers, Platycotis vittata. When I got home I took most of the above photos before doing a little internet research. When I found out that these bugs were drinking the sap of the oak on its way from the leaves down to the roots and that they seldom cause the trees any harm, I released my herd onto the oak trees by my driveway. I hope they establish a local colony as they are quite attractive. The bottom two photos were taken on my way home from work at a turnout I call my "cat-o-nine-tails place." The galls on the willow branch fit with the fall colors theme, although they're hardly noticeable at 55 mph. Close by there were still a few Common Monkeyflower blooming, but most had gone to seed as in the bottom photo above. The shape of the seed pods intrigued me and brought me back to thinking about geometry and art.
Tomorrow and this weekend I'll post photos of the geometry/art projects we're doing. That is, unless some other great nature discovery intrudes.

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