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Spiny Witch Hazel Galls

8-26-13  spiny witch hazel gall 045Aphids are responsible for the formation of two different galls (abnormal plant growths caused by insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses) on Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). A cone-shaped gall forms on leaves and a second type of gall covered with spiny points grows from branches. The latter gall, referred to as the Spiny Witch Hazel Gall, provides many aphids (Hamamelistes spinosus) with both food and shelter while they are developing inside the gall. (Their two-year life cycle involves birches as their next host.) The pictured Spiny Witch Hazel Gall has split open enough to allow ants to discover and have access to the aphids. Once the ants enter the gall, they stroke the resident aphids with their antennae, stimulating the aphids into producing droplets of tasty “honeydew” from the tips of their abdomens, which the ants find irresistible. In return, the ants protect the aphids from predators.

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4 responses

  1. Brinna Sands

    Dear Mary,

    Hope I can do this.

    Found this beauty this AM on our table on an island in Muscongus Bay: can’t find it in our plethora of wild-life books here. Do you know what it is? Pretty fancy! It (she? must be a she with that getup!) is about 1 1/4 inches long not counting her fancy tail.

    Brinna Sands

    August 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    • I think it’s a White-marked Tussock moth, Brinna! Love those tufts!

      August 27, 2013 at 11:49 am


    How long have you studied to provide such informative, unique articles as well as spectacular photography? Thank you. Katherine J Holle

    August 27, 2013 at 3:36 am

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m in my 60’s, and I’ve been a naturalist all my life, so I’ve had a lot of time to ask questions and try to find answers — I was in a naturalist curriculum in college, but most of what I know is either from firsthand observation, or from the plethora of natural history books I own!

      August 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

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