Pink polka dots and wasps were not an iconic pairing in my mind, but springs walks never fail to deliver awesomeness. My sister and I discovered these polka dot balls on an April walk in a oak pine forest. We had no idea we were admiring wasp handiwork. If a duck quacks, a flower blazes, or a bud emerges—I’m likely to stop and appreciate. Butterflies, dragonflies, and caterpillars halt me, but wasps and flies tend not to engage me. Like many women, I don’t love bugs. My sister and I have been known to run-away, and we love our husbands more when they “save us” from spiders and six and eight-legged home invaders.
Walnut-sized, Dr. Seuss inspired pink polka dot balls on white oaks do make me stop in wonder. My sister and I hovered over them. We prodded them with a stick and walked away scratching our heads. Had we dissected one, we would have found what looked like little seeds, but were in actuality small larvae of the Wool sower wasp (Callirhytis seminator).
These parasitic wasps have co-evolved with the oak so that when the wasps lay their eggs on the deciduous tree in the winter, the eggs and trees respond to spring together. When the eggs hatch, the grub’s secretions stimulate the plant to develop gall tissue. The gall protects and feeds the developing larvae and we get polka dot balls on oak trees.
My prejudice against insects has perhaps diminished (but stay out of my house–and don’t take up residence in my sister’s house either.) a bit. John Muir said that whatever we expect from a nature “we always get more.” I’m finding that this maxim even holds true for insects. The wool sower wasp doesn’t sting, which is true of most wasps.
AL says: Take children outdoors and buy them books about nature. Consider this one:
Why does the water of Isa Lake drain in two different directions? Follow Howie Tootalot to the wild land we now call Yellowstone as he and his new bear friend explore the wild geysers, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and more. Danger surrounds them, yet lessons from the wild and the wilderness itself will save them. Learn the Tootalot family legend. Children may download and assemble their own free puppets—just like the ones in the story. Great fun for reading and play at home or in the car. Howie Tootalot in Yellowstone is the second in The Tootalots series. Award-winning parenting author, dons a pen name and introduces Howie Tootalot in this fun legend that offers giggles and some important ways to deal with respecting the danger and wildness of natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park.