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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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Thursday - November 14, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pests
Title: Identity of small objects that look like tiny pecans
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I am doing my science fair project on acorns. Last year I measured how many acorns and other nature-y stuff fell into a baby pool from a live oak tree in my backyard every day of October. Last year was a mast year so a lot fell. One day I got 44 acorns! This year I did the same measurements. It was not a mast year so I only got 3 acorns all month. But at the the end of the month some small things fell from the tree. They look like dried up tiny tiny pecans about 3 mm long. Do you know what they are? My project is due December 4, so if you could email me back before then it would be great. Thank you, Isy PS I live near MoPac and 2222 in case that helps. PPS I saved some so if you need to see them I can send a picture.

ANSWER:

From your description I can think of a couple of possibilities.

1) The most likely possibility is that they are plant galls.  Galls are abnormal growths on plants in reaction to insects, mites, fungus or bacteria.  The most common ones are caused by the plants reaction to the deposit of an insect or mite laying an egg on the plant's leaves or stems.  The larva from the egg is encased by the growing tissue in which it feeds.  The insect usually overwinters and emerges as an adult in the spring. Galls can occur on many trees and other plants, but oaks and hackberries have a large number and variety of galls.  Here are links to several descriptions, with photos, of galls:

Gall-Making Insects and Mites from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Oak Gall Insects from Texas A&M Forest Service

The Mealy Oak Gall on Ornamental Live Oak in Texas from Nueces County AgriLife Extension.

Galls on Trees from Missouri Botanical Garden.

Hackberry nipplegall maker. Hackberry blister gall psyllid.

You can determine if the objects you found are galls by cutting them open.   You will find either the larva inside or a hollow where it grew.   If you find the hollow without the insect, you should be able to find the small hole on the surface of the gall where the insect emerged.

2)  The other possibility is that they are fruits from a plant you haven't noticed before.   If you cut the fruit open, you should be able to find a seed inside.

 

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