Category Archives: Single Fatherhood

Backyard Biology – The Grubby Edition

As a single parent with not a lot of money, I’m always looking for free ways to entertain my discerning five-year-old.  From the time he could crawl, he’s been into nature.  I suspect all kids are if given the chance, but he’s gotten pretty serious about it.  He’ll sit still in rapt attention watching David Attenborough for hours but gets bored by most kids’ flicks.  It makes me proud.

An acorn weevil grub and his former home.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been collecting acorns on our walks.  He likes to load them into his farm tractor’s trailer or into the hopper car of his train set.  But this week, when we pulled out the trailer, we found this little guy.  A cursory search revealed him (I’m guessing it’s a him, I didn’t get close enough to check) to be a weevil grub.  They are allegedly good eatin’, but I wasn’t about to find out.

Two galls from an oak tree. I believe they are egg cases made by hornets.

This week, while looking for bugs and collecting acorns, I noticed quite a few of these growths on an oak tree.  So we found a few good sized sticks and proceeded to knock a few of them out of the tree.  I had no idea what they were, so we did a little research together to make sure they weren’t some sort of cordycep fungus that would take over our brains if we cut them open.  They matched the online pictures of hornet egg cases, so we proceeded to dissect them.

The galls proved no match against the awesome cutting power of an Ikea knife.

In the first gall, you can see where the eggs were along with needle-like depositing incision.  The second gall, however, contained a few surprises.

A face only a mother hornet could love.

In the second gall, we found a hornet larvae, which was kind of like the grub we harassed earlier.  I was surprised to find anything alive inside as I figured it to be too late in the year.  But that wasn’t the only surprise.

In the same gall as the larvae was this (I believe) baby hornet. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Again, I apologize for the iPhone’s failure at macro photography.  It is blurry, but you can see the tiny wasp there.  We were both quite shocked by this discovery.  Despite the fact that she looked fully formed, she made no attempts at flight.

Honestly, as a dad, it doesn't get any better than this. He's the one who saw the larvae moving inside the gall.

This is the best part.  Watching my son be curious and make discoveries gets me excited to find new things and make discoveries with him.  I had a great time doing this and I never would have thought to do it if he wasn’t in my life.  It was a great way to spend an afternoon.  We had fun laughing and learning together.  And it didn’t cost a penny.

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Filed under Nature, Single Fatherhood