Nature’s acorn drop

By on January 1, 2014

An acorn weevil larva eats the internal components of acorns. When it emerges, it leaves a round exit hole in the side of the acorn. Image: Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

It’s the New Year and the City of Oaks welcomed 2014 with the annual acorn drop. Each year, a large, copper acorn is lowered in downtown Raleigh at midnight amongst fireworks, music and festivities.

But the big, shiny acorn at First Night Raleigh isn’t the only acorn dropping. Each fall, countless acorns drop from oak trees across the state. And there’s at least one critter who couldn’t be happier.

The acorn weevil has no plans to start a diet in the new year. Rather, this small beetle enjoys the feast provided by acorns. A female weevil drills a small hole into an acorn then lays an egg. This egg hatches, and a white, grub-like larva emerges, eating the inside contents of the acorn. Eventually, when it’s had its fill, it chews a hole in the side of the acorn and emerges. (Have you ever seen an acorn with a hole in the side?) It then burrows into the soil where it pupates for one to two years, then emerges as an adult to repeat the cycle.

Baby’s first photo with Raleigh’s copper acorn. A must-have for all baby books! Image: Kelly Oten

This could be bad news if you’re an oak tree. Each acorn that is fed upon will never get the chance to germinate and grow into a tree. Usually this isn’t a big deal, but in some areas where other factors contribute (such as deer, absence of fire, seed predation by rodents, etc.), it could add to problems with oak regeneration. In seed orchards, where seeds are the “crop,” acorns lost to weevils are not tolerated and chemical controls may be used.

Luckily, acorn weevils don’t have an appetite for copper acorns, so First Night Raleigh and the annual acorn drop are safe for years to come. When the acorn is not being used to ring in the new year, it can be found in Moore Square, a photo opportunity not to miss!

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