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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Branches cut by twig girdlers are seen Oct. 8 2019 beneath a persimmon tree near Rogers.

No doubt lots of folks in our corner of the Ozarks are playing "Pick Up Sticks" this fall if their yards are littered with twigs cut by a seldom-seen critter.

Looking around my own yard, it's obvious twig girdlers are on the prowl big time up in the tree branches. I've picked up a bushel of persimmon twigs that have fallen like rain, cut by twig girdlers.

Twig girdlers you say? These half-inch-long insects gnaw a circle around thin branches the diameter of a pencil. All that chewing causes the branch, or twig, to break and fall to the ground.

These beetles are particularly fond of persimmon, hickory or elm trees. A little research also reveals they do their chewing on oaks, honey-locust and dogwood trees. Twig girdlers love fruit trees of all types.

Ah, but twig girdlers are careful chewers. Their biting creates a perfect circle around the twig through the bark and deep into the wood. The female lays three to eight eggs under the bark or on the bare wood.

The circular cut is called girdling, which kills the twig. Bugs girdle the twig because larvae can't survive on a living twig, according to an online article from Oklahoma State University.

I first heard about twig girdlers from Bob Ross on a hike he guided years ago at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. Bob lives out in the woods near the park and knows his twig girdlers. On the hike, he picked a girdled branch off the ground and showed it to the group.

The little bugs are quite the artists with their precision girdling.

"It's almost like someone carved a perfect circle with a pocket knife," Bob told the group.

All the persimmon twigs in my yard here at the shack-ri-la got me curious, so I gave Bob a call. He reports that red oak twigs are scattered all over his deck, but the cutting doesn't look like the work of twig girdlers. Some other nefarious critter may be at work in his oak trees.

Bob's not sure if there's an overpopulation of twig girdlers this year, but in my wandering around, I see lots of twigs on the ground hither and yon.

I started noticing persimmon twigs dropping in mid-August. That's about the time twig girdlers start to work. Their chewing continues through October. Right now I'm picking up twigs every day and piling them up for a nice campfire later.

Eggs hatch during autumn and the larvae stay dormant through the winter inside the fallen twig. Larvae feed on the wood through spring and emerge as adults in the summer. And the girdling cycle goes on.

Before Bob told us hikers about tree girdlers, I thought strong wind or the munching of squirrels brought down those persimmon branches.

It's easy to see the twig girdler's art work on twigs scattered around the yard, but it'd be rare to see the actual bug. They do their work high in the branches while we stay on the ground, picking up sticks.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com

Sports on 10/15/2019

Print Headline: Little bugs send branches falling

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