Did you have a guess about last week’s puzzler? One creative subscriber guessed that it might be the devil’s purse… and really, if you look closely, that IS a good suggestion…. wrong, but certainly worthy of creativity points. I appreciate that he took the time to put his guess in the comment box! (By the way, there IS such a thing as a devil’s purse–it is a casing that surrounds the fertilized eggs of some sharks, skates and chimaeras. This is also called a mermaid’s purse)Did you know you can guess too–or that starting today I will be awarding some prizes for guessing the puzzler?
These black “growths” can take on all kinds of interesting shapes and if you see them during winter, they appear black and hard-looking.
They are a kind of sooty mold fungus that grows on American beech trees, called Scorias spongiosa. The interesting thing about this is how they come to be there in the first place–but in order to understand that you must first know a little about an insect called an aphid.
Aphids are tiny insects–from 1-10mm long! that feed on the sap of plants. Often called “plant lice,” they are the bane of many gardeners, farmers and forestry workers because they can inflict incredible damage to the plants they are sucking the juices from. There are 4,400 different species of aphids!
One kind–beech blight aphids,( also called beech wooly aphids)–specialize in sucking sap from the American beech. As the aphids feed, they produce a sweet liquid which is expelled from their butts. Called honeydew, this liquid falls on the branches, trunk and ground. Spores of Scorias spongiosa borne by the wind and rain land on the honeydew and start to grow. The more honeydew there is, the more mold will grow.
In a previous life I took many pictures of these aphids–they are white and look like tiny bits of cotton stuck to the limbs…the first time I ever saw one I thought it WAS bit of cotton stuck to a branch! but that was before I switched to a digital camera and looking through thousands of slides to try and find these pictures seems like looking for a needle in a haystack so if you want to see pictures of this aphid, you can check them out HERE. Or, if you want to read more about them, click HERE.