The Entomologist’s Christmas Present

In 1908, Elbert S. Tucker decorated his house for Christmas. Little did he know it would add to his insect collection and become a description of insects that inhabit mistletoe. Tucker writes*:

While making a short trip into the country near Piano, Texas on December 12, 1908, the writer took advantage of an opportunity to obtain some mistletoe for Christmas decorations. Accordingly, after collecting several bunches of Phoradendron flavescens from hackberry trees, the pick of them was carried to Dallas and hung around the rooms of the house then occupied as living quarters. About ten days later, on being seated at dinner, attention happened to be drawn to a small weevil crawling on the tablecloth. Its strange presence excited surprise, and it was therefore immediately captured for closer scrutiny. Within a few more days the appearance of a tiny winged wasp in a similar manner again caused wonderment as to the source of this suspectedly hostile interloper, and correspondingly revived the problem bearing on the obtrusion of the former visitant. In pondering over the circumstances in search of a clue, the idea was suddenly conceived that both of the bodies had dropped down from some sprigs of mistletoe which festooned an electric chandelier, this fixture being suspended from the ceiling right above the table.
Suspicion was thus directed to the plants as having harbored these guests.

The weevil was Smicraulax tuberculatus. At the time it was only the second record of the species and the first collection from mistletoe. The surprise appearance of parasitoids gave additional insight to the ecology. He writes:

In the acquisition of parasites the first subject, which was caught by luck, agreed with authentically named representatives of Catolaccus incertus. Likewise, by comparison, the others appearing in January proved to be a female Cerambycobius cyaniceps, a male and a female Eurytoma tylodermatis, and a male Bracon mellitor. Furthermore, two dead males of Catolaccus hunteri were taken on March 12 at the final inspection of the material. Since all of these agents were known to attack the immature stages of the cotton boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis, their possible connection with Smicraulax tuberculatus introduced an astonishing exigent phase, in which the latter seemed to fill a very important position as winter cohost for the parasites.

In 1908, Elbert S. Tucker received the perfect entomologist’s Christmas present.

*Elbert S. Tucker. Studies of Insects Associated with the American Mistletoe. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science Vol. 30, (Apr. 18, 1919 – Feb. 19, 1921) pp. 143-170.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/3624056

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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