Norway Maple Seedminer

Two weeks ago I was walking across the Amherst (Massachusetts) town common and I had two minutes to kill before a bus arrived, so I stopped under a Norway maple tree to see if I could find any mines of Ectoedemia sericopeza (Nepticulidae), the “Norway maple seedminer,” in any of the fallen samaras (“keys”) lying beneath it.  It had been a long time since I’d seen a photo of one of these mines, so I didn’t really know what I was looking for–I imagined them looking something like the mines other nepticulid moths make in leaves (e.g. these), only in a key rather than a leaf.  I saw nothing of the sort, but each key I examined had a little brown line like this:

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Closer inspection revealed that each one began with a flat eggshell (as shown in the next photo, a zoomed-in version of the first one), then disappeared into the seed.

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Doing some quick investigation when I got home, to see if I had in fact found what I was after, I saw the statement here that “infested samaras are prematurely shed, and should be sought on the ground.”  This explained why literally every key I had picked up had had one of the mines in it.  I stuffed them all in an empty hummus container and forgot about them until yesterday, when I peeked in and discovered three surprisingly large moths (3.5 mm long, twice the size of the leaf-mining nepticulids I’m used to raising).

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I like this moth’s fuzzy orange head and white “earmuffs,” and I also like seeing invasive nonnative plants colonized by host-specific nonnative insects.  Incidentally, this moth has a native relative, Ectoedemia ochrefasciella, which has been associated with sugar maple.  Its immature stages are unknown, but it is strongly suspected that the larvae mine keys in the same way.  So when you see the first sugar maple keys falling, it’s worth taking a look for similar brown lines leading into their seeds.

A cocoon found on the lid of the hummus container, with pupal skin protruding.

A cocoon found on the lid of the hummus container, with pupal skin protruding.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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3 Responses to Norway Maple Seedminer

  1. Jeffrey Eiseman says:

    Charley:

    Why do you “like seeing invasive nonnative plants colonized by host-specific nonnative insects”?

    Dad

    • Because usually nonnative plants seem completely devoid of insect life, and this is a big part of why they become invasive. The more insects there are feeding on nonnative plants, the better the chances of an ecological balance being struck, and maybe someday conservationists won’t feel the need to douse the landscape with herbicides anymore.

      • I should add that I’m just as happy (or more so) to see native insects colonizing nonnative plants, but if the insects are truly host species-specific then obviously they need to be nonnative too.

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