Nature’s classroom is right outside our door (in this case, practically in the front yard). On one of our regular evening walks through the woods, Kevin spotted the curious white, fuzzy growth in the picture below on a small branch of an oak tree. I encouraged him to take a picture so I could try to figure out what it was.
Google image search was a bust, (it thought it was a mushroom), but it turns out googling a phrase similar to “white fuzzy ball red spots tree” or something equally ridiculous gets you unexpectedly good results.
I found the answer halfway down this page, about 30 seconds after typing my absurd query: http://www.backyardnature.net/galls.htm
Thank you, google, for identifying that white, fuzzy, roughly golf ball size ball with reds spots on the tree branch as a wool-sower gall. Well into my third decade on this planet, and I had no idea galls even existed until now. Its at this point I promptly fell down the rabbit hole of learning about galls.
“What is a gall?, you might ask. Galls are any outgrowth on the surface of a living organism, often caused by a parasite, disease, or genetic mutation, and on plants alone, they can range in form from aesthetically pleasing to disgusting. Oaks are susceptible to a variety of galls, and if you’ve been hiking around an oak forest in the fall, it’s not uncommon to find papery brown balls on the forest floor called oak-apple galls. These galls are caused by a wasp that lays its eggs in the oak’s living tissue, as are many oak galls. ” – http://www.the-understory.com/2012/06/07/the-incredible-emergence-of-the-wool-sower-gall-wasp/
Th wool sower gall –
“…it is a gall specific to white oak trees and only found in spring. According the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Department of Entomology, this wool sower gall (sometimes called the oak seed gall) is caused by secretions of grubs of a small gall wasp, Callirhytis seminator. They lay their eggs in winter and the eggs hatch as new leaves appear on the tree in spring. Chemical secretions from the young grubs stimulate the plant to develop the gall tissue which provides protection to the developing larva and nourishing food.
If one pulls the gall apart…it would reveal seed-like structures. The gall wasps develop inside these structures. Apparently they are never enough numbers to do any harm to the oak trees. We only found two galls on one of our trees. …parasitic wasps are so incredibly fascinating. They often have pretty complex life-cycles and have co-evolved with their hosts.” – http://gardeningsoul.blogspot.com/2014/04/wool-sower-gall.html
“Like many oak gall wasps, it doesn’t cause major damage nor pose a major threat to the trees on which they grow. Parasitic wasps are often very specific to their hosts, and have co-evolved all sorts of weird traits in response to their hosts, such as amazingly and creepily changing their host’s growth, behavior (if it’s another animal), and tissue. Incredible.” – http://www.the-understory.com/2012/06/07/the-incredible-emergence-of-the-wool-sower-gall-wasp/