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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Biological Buzzsaw

While hiking with Dylan along the section south of Cottons Road, I noticed some sort of powder beneath a dead tree trunk next to the trail. The trunk was bare, about eight inches in diameter, and suspended two or three feet off the ground. The closer I looked, the curiouser I got: it looked as though someone had sprinkled powder not only along the entire underside of the log, but all along its edge. I finally looked very closely, and saw that those clumps were small mounds of sawdust surrounding tiny holes less than one millimeter in diameter. So many tiny worms had been burrowing into the wood that they had created a trail of sawdust beneath the entire log!

A few days after the hike I had a conversation on the BugGuide forum about what the boring insects might have been. I'm writing this months later, and in the interim I've seen many trees like this one and at least one more example of the accumulation of sawdust from burrowing insects. This sort of biological breakdown of dead trees is, of course, going on all around me all the time; I just never noticed it before. It's one more example of my perceptions changing upon looking closely.

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