It’s a weekend to celebrate our mystery column: This is the two hundredth mystery post on The Squirrel Nutwork!
And what better way to celebrate than with a mystery acorn!
Sigh, isn’t that a lovely sight?
That’s not too hard, is it? I mean, to guess what type of oak tree it came from?
I’ll check for your guesses in the comments–and if you really want a hint…here is one pictured below.
This beautiful acorn is from the Black Oak, Quercus velutina. Yes, it’s hard to tell the similar leaves of the black and red oak families apart. One way is the acorns. The Black Oak acorns are shorter and round. The leaves of the Black Oak turn a coppery color in the fall, not red like the Northern Red Oak. And, this is the best leaf difference any time of year, on the back of a Black Oak leaf, tufts of hair fill the angle of space between the main vein and the branching veins (called the axil!). Hope you human readers can see those tufts on the lower, yellowish, dotted leaf.
But either tree is beautiful to us squirrels and the acorns tasty!
And falling like crazy with the winds coming through!
We had a guess of ‘worm poop’ folks, and that is so close! These are caterpillar fecal pellets–poop–better known to scientists as ‘frass’. The word frass is used for any type of insect poop, which we squirrels didn’t know. We’ve just heard it used for butterfly and moth poop. And so you know, the size of the frass does vary with the size of the caterpillar, and grows as they grow, but it always has those little grooves down the sides.
This is really what Nutmeg and I saw when we bounded to one of our favorite decks to visit a water dish:
Frass everywhere! We looked up, and sure enough, the black oak leaves were being chewed to the veins.
A closer inspection upon climbing the tree revealed dozens of orange-striped oak worm caterpillars at work.
If you forget that name, you can just search for orange and black caterpillar on oak trees and easily find it.
It’s Hickory back again today with a note on another of our favorite foods.
These acorns are smaller than the White Oak ones. I know this is a Black Oak, Quercus velutina, not a red, because of the size of the acorns, but also because the leaves have little tufts of hair at the axils of the veins on the back of the leaves.