Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:11 am
Location: Dawsonville, USA (north of Atlanta)
weird, weird bugs
Sunday morning, Joe of the Jungle and I headed over to Swamp Fox's shop (aka headquarters for Rogue Industries) and then the three of us took off for nearby Dawson Forest. We picked out a beautliful white oak on a hillside, dropped our gear at its base, and went exploring on foot. Swampy wanted a few pix of the waterfalls, etc. in the wilderness area.
A few minutes later we stopped at a favorite beech tree that we'd all climbed at least once or twice in the past. Swampy, or maybe it was Joe, suddenly noticed a highly unusual insect infestation on a small beech limb about three feet off the ground. Thousands and thousands of extremely tiny white insects of an unknown variety had covered about two feet of the limb and its leaves with some sort of white-ish substance. They moved around slowly on the limb, but their tiny antenna or flagella flapped almost straight up.
"I've never seen anything like this in all my 71 years," Joe said, "and I'm in the forest almost every day."
Swampy tried to photograph them but it turned out that he didn't have a macro lens with him. It also turned out that he'd forgotten to put a memory card in the camera.
A few minutes later we found a similar infestation of the white insects on a very small beech about 75 yards away.
We gave up our explorations, and headed back to the white oak for an excellent mid-morning climb. I went up first on SRT-Texas while Joe and Swampy set up their Yo-yo systems. We hung out for about an hour at 60 feet or so in the beautiful tree, then headed back to Galactic HQ for burgers, beans and an ice-cold adult beverage.
However, I was determined to find out what sort of insects we were observing, so I returned to the tree on Monday with a couple of ziplock bags and a specimin bottle. I also tried to take some pix but couldn't get my camera to go into macro mode. I snipped off a short piece of branch with about four or five leaves attached and dropped the sample into the baggie. I couldn't find the second tree.
A few minutes later I dropped by the local office of the U.S. Ag Department's Cooperative Extension Service. Clark, the agent on duty, put the critters under his microscope and tentatively decided they were "probably" some sort of fly larvae. He kept the specimin, though, and headed over to the entomology lab at the nearby University of Georgia.
Clark called at 3:30 p.m. and announced that the insects were wooly beech aphids. They're apparently uncommon in Georgia, but fairly common in the Midwest. They don't seem to do much harm, if any, to mature beeches but can release sugars from the sap that attract wasps, yellowjackets and other unwanted pests.
Has anybody else seen an infestation like this?
Alice Lou taught me everything I know, she just didn't teach me everything she knows!
Joined: Wed Apr 25, 2007 2:47 pm
Location: Bemidji, Minnesota
Re: weird, weird bugs
I used to see these (or something that sounds A LOT like what you describe) on beech trees in a study plot in the Big Thicket region of SE Texas. They may have contributed to the decline of beech in that area (right at the SW extreme of the geographic range of beech), but only in conjunction with other factors since they never seemed very extensive. Can't seem to find any internet sources that indicate they are more than a minor problem, but an infestation can look weird and ugly since the sugar water they excrete can encourage the growth of a black mold.
The plot where I saw them (Wier Woods in Lumberton TX, a Nature Conservancy holding) was partially leveled by hurricane Rita in 2005, so the beech have had more serious problems since then.