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Twig Girdlers

Bayou-Diversity (20 October 2019) Not long ago a single beetle less than three-fourths of an inch long caused my computer to crash. My first thought was that all my valuable data were now in some black hole in another galaxy with family photos, essays, and email archives spinning around with a bunch of imprisoned light particles. Simultaneous with the computer failure, all of the smoke detectors in the house began their piercing out-of-sync chirp-whines, not unlike an imagined cat squirrel on meth. And oh yeah, the electrical transformer on the pole just outside the door exploded like a cannon shot then too. One oblivious beetle hell-bent on procreation started a chain of events that altered my day and that of several others.

The bug was a twig girdler. Her business in life is to produce more twig girdlers. She does this by chewing a v-shaped groove around the stem of a small twig, usually pecan, hickory or oak in our area. She then lays an egg under the bark of the twig beyond the cut. The girdled twig, deprived of nutrients, quickly dies and soon falls to the ground. Clumps of brown leaves with stems that resemble a partially sharpened pencil can often be seen under yard trees after a spate of autumn breezes. The egg hatches into a larval beetle that bores deeper into the twig to feed and settles in for the winter. Pupation occurs in the cavity and a new adult beetle emerges in late summer to early fall to mate and renew the cycle. Life for the twig girdler goes on.

But insect life is hazardous, and the cycle was interrupted for at least one beetle in my yard when her egg-laden twig fell across the electrical lines causing a dead short that tripped the transformer fuse. I was more fortunate than the beetle as summoned utility workers resolved the problem in a couple of hours. My computer data resurfaced with the fresh flow of electrons, like a revitalizing current returning to the stagnant bayou down the hill. (Adapted from Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country; LSU Press)


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