As I've wandered the trails around The Lodge recently, I've noticed something strange. Where there should be smooth, shiny, ripening acorns dangling from the oak twigs, there are distorted, crinkly growths which - to my eyes, anyway - look a bit like Ferrero Rocher chocolates...
It turns out that this is the work of a small wasp which goes by the snappy name of Andricus quercuscalicis. The weird growths themselves are known as 'knopper galls' - the word knopper being derived from a word for a knob, stud, tassel or hat.
The 'gall' is the growing acorn's response to the wasp grubs developing inside after eggs were laid there earlier in the year. In a similar way, you might have seen the robin's pincushion gall before - it's a common sight on wild rose bushes, with a tangled mass growing from the stem eventually turning red.
At The Lodge, at least, there are not many acorns to be found this autumn. The galls are turning brown and falling off the trees, and the newly-hatched wasps making their escape.
Jays are famous for their love of acorns, able to store away as many as 5,000 for a rainy (or cold) day. What will they do here this year?
As members of the crow family - clever, bold, adaptable and omnivorous - I doubt jays will go hungry. They just might need to look for some different foods in different places, so I wonder if that could mean an influx of jays to garden bird tables? In the same way, might we see squirrels launching a hunger-fuelled assault on our feeders?
Let us know what you see!
Have you spotted knopper galls on your local oak trees? Leave a comment and let me know.
I should have read Katie's note and the Wiki article. Turkey oak seems to be a double edged sword. Is it's support of the wasp's reproduction in spring more damaging than the benefit of acorns in the autumn?
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