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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - May 06, 2014

From: Bandera, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests, Trees
Title: Clicking heard under an Oak in near Bandera, TX
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Hi, I live on a ranch in TX outside of Bandera. We're covered with live oaks, spanish oak and cedar. Last week,as I stood under an oak, I heard a constant fairly loud clicking sound under and around this oak. I walked around much of our property and did not hear the sound under any other oaks. It's sounded like rain droplets hitting the dry oak leaves beneath the tree but there was no rain. I could not spot any little insects, either. To make sure I wasn't crazy, I asked my elderly mother to take a listen and she heard it also. Any ideas? I'm really puizzled..we've never heard this sound in all the time we've lived here. Thanks, Michael

ANSWER:

It's very likely that you're not losing your mind.  The clicking sound you describe sounds just like the typical sign that Oak Leaf Rollers are at work in a tree.  It is the sound of their frass (tiny, little caterpillar meadow muffins) hitting the dry leaves below.  This is the time of year they visit, often completely defoliating their host Live Oak tree just after its new foliage has emerged.  The damage does not seem to cause serious injury to the host plant, though, and it quickly produces a new set of leaves and goes about its treely business.

Here is an excellent online publication on Oak Leaf Rollers published by Texas A&M's AgriLife Extension Service.

Oak Leaf Rollers are usually just a bit earlier, so we cannot say that it's not another creature, but chances are excellent the source of the clicking you heard were some caterpillars munching on the tree's leaves.

 

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