This time of year it looks like someone has visited every other Sugar Maple (and to a lesser extent, Red Maples and birches) leaf with a hole punch. The Maple Leafcutter Moth (Paraclemensia acerifoliella) is the hole-punching culprit. At the beginning of the summer, leafcutter larvae hatch and begin mining tissue between the upper and lower layers of maple leaves. The mines are barely discernible, as the larvae are so small at this stage. A bit later in the summer the larvae start using their mandibles to cut out round discs of leaf tissue. They take two of these discs and fasten them together with silk, forming a protective case around themselves as they consume additional tissue between the leaf veins. It is this feeding that causes the “punch holes.” As the larva grows, it cuts larger and larger discs to form its case.
When September comes, the larvae are mature and descend to the ground, carrying their homes with them as they move into the topsoil to pupate. Orange-headed, metallic blue-winged adult moths will emerge in the spring, leaving their leaf homes behind.
Because leaves have produced most of the sugar they are going to produce by late summer, the feeding behavior by the moth larvae that occurs from August until leaf fall isn’t a threat to the health of the tree unless complete defoliation occurs for three consecutive years or more.
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Scent-marking plays an important communication role in the animal world. A variety of species use glandular secretions to convey (for some distance) messages. From beavers spreading castoreum on scent mounds to fishers leaving their scent every time their hind feet touch the ground, the woods are alive with messages often undetected by most humans. Some of these are left by White-tailed Deer, which have two primary scent-marking behaviors: antler rubbing and scrapes.
One used to associate an antler rub with the act of a buck removing drying velvet from its antlers. However, it turns out that very few rubs are made by deer removing antler velvet, a process that’s normally completed within 24 hours. Instead, most rubs are made by relatively few dominant bucks to signal their readiness to breed and to mark their territory.
All White-tailed Deer possess specialized forehead glands that become increasingly active in autumn, particularly in adult males. All bucks spread their scent by rubbing their foreheads (which contain specialized scent glands) against trees and shrubs that have smooth bark, few, if any, lower limbs and are ½” to 4” in diameter. (Older bucks also will rub trees six or more inches in diameter.) In the Northeast, Trembling Aspen, Staghorn Sumac, Red Maple, and willows are often used for this purpose.
Mature, socially high-ranking bucks exude greater amounts of the glandular secretion than do younger males or females. They begin marking their territory soon after losing velvet and continue marking until they cast their antlers in December or January. The chemical signals left at a rub site tend to suppress the aggressiveness and sex drive of young males. However, those same signals stimulate females. The amount of rubbing an individual buck does depends on the level of testosterone in his blood, which in turn is largely determined by the animal’s age and dominance status.
We may not be able to detect the chemicals on a rub, but it’s hard to miss the sight of the light-colored blazes that magically appear in the woods at this time of year. (Photo: White-tailed Deer rub on Staghorn Sumac. Thanks to Chiho Kaneko and Jeffrey Hamelman for photo op.)
Red Maples (Acer rubrum) are celebrated in the fall for their vibrant colors, but they produce equally vibrant reds and yellows in early spring when they are flowering. Most Red Maples have dense clusters of either male flowers or female flowers (dioecious), although some have both male and female flowers (monoecious). Under certain conditions, a Red Maple tree can sometimes switch from male to female, male to both male and female (hermaphroditic), and hermaphroditic to female.
The showier male, or staminate, flowers contain between four and twelve stamens, with long, slender filaments and red (young) or yellow (mature) anthers at their tips. Both red sepals and petals can be seen at the base of the stamens. A staminate Red Maple in full bloom is a blaze of gold and red. (Photo: mature staminate Red Maple flowers)
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are just starting to arrive on their northern breeding grounds. As you might assume from their name, these birds feed on the sap of trees. Their horizontal lines of drilled holes are a familiar sight, especially in trees such as paper birch, yellow birch, sugar maple, red maple and hickory, all of which have a high concentration of sugar in their sap.
In addition to sap, yellow-bellied sapsuckers also eats insects (primarily ants), and spiders, probing underneath bark to find them. They’ve even been observed “hawking”– taking off from a branch and scooping up insects in the air.
Lesser known is the fact that sapsuckers also consume vegetation, including the inner bark and cambium layers of trees, the buds of trembling aspen, and a variety of fruits and seeds. The recent cold snap had the pictured male yellow-bellied sapsucker scarfing down crab apples before the sun set. (The next NC post will be on 4/11/15.)