Yesterday morning I awoke in the northwestern corner of Tennessee, to the sound of singing Carolina and Winter Wrens. This departure from the Rock, Cactus, and Canyon Wrens I’ve been encountering in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts over the past few weeks made me feel like I was finally approaching something like home, after more than two months on the road. The blanket of red maple leaves around me added to this feeling, as it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything but bigleaf and vine maples. Not all the vegetation Julia and I saw on our morning walk along Reelfoot Lake was familiar, though. We found three (or four?) different types of moth mines on this plant, whose leaves remind me a bit of glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus)…
…but it was a green-stemmed, twining vine:
I have a rough idea of who the moths are, based on the characteristics of the mines, and if someone can tell me what the plant is, I will report back on what they turn out to be.
The neat, oval holes cut in these three old mines identifies their makers as heliozelids (Coptodisca or Antispila). Larvae of the Heliozelidae cut out oval leaf pieces when they are done feeding, and wearing these hole punches, they drop to the ground on long strands of silk, wander around a bit, and attach themselves to various objects to pupate.
The little green guy in this contorted linear mine is a nepticulid larva (probably Stigmella), with the continuous trail of excrement characteristic of this family’s mines:
At the time I took these photos, I was thinking this next one was the same species, but now I’m wondering what to make of the lack of dark excrement and the larva’s apparently differently shaped head:
Finally, there were a couple of bark mines like the one below. Bark mines in other plants are made by both nepticulids and Marmara species (Gracillariidae), but I believe that the continuous line of excrement, as in the second of the three leaf mines, indicates the work of a nepticulid.
I already have moths, flies, beetles, and parasitoid wasps emerging from leaf mines collected on this trip, and I’m hoping for help identifying their host plants as well. My plan is to upload my plant photos to flickr, organized by location, and direct people there, rather than bombard my email subscribers with dozens of “identify this plant for me” posts. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to doing this–first I have to deal with all these bugs I’ve collected and write up the reports for all the natural resource inventories I conducted in Maine before I left New England–but I’ll post updates on this blog periodically, once there is something to look at on my flickr page. I will also, of course, be posting lots of other observations and photos from the Pacific Northwest, California, and the desert Southwest here when I get a chance.