By Emilie Wetzel, TTF Intern
It was an exciting morning for kids and adults alike as Judith Gratz, environmental educator, led a group of nature enthusiasts through Tacony Creek Park (TCP) on a quest to find nature’s hidden treasures. Tacony Creek Park is one of our Philadelphia Parks & Recreation watershed parks.
We met last Wednesday morning at the TCP gateway at I Street and Ramona Avenue for TTF’s November nature walk. This month’s focus was: finding insect galls! The October walk focused on creek exploration.
Judith explained that insect galls are abnormal plant growths created in response to insects eating the plant or laying eggs on it. The plant encases the insects in a shelter-like gall, and actually provides extra carbohydrates and moisture within the structure that the insects can use for their own growth. In this way, certain galls can serve as effective shelters for insects over the winter. Though you can find galls on any part of a plant, we discovered that most of the galls we found were on fallen oak leaves. We were surprised to find that some galls were warty and round, while others looked like tiny saucers or pointy hats, depending on the type of insect inside.
While our main goal was to find insect galls, Tacony Creek Park held lots of surprises! We found nests of all shapes and sizes, ranging from a mess of leaves high in the treetops serving as a summer nest for squirrels, a large Crow’s nest built from leaves and sticks, an old Baltimore Oriole nest sac hanging from some branches, and a mystery bird’s nest with plastic incorporated into its grass design.
In the meadow, we found countless Praying Mantis egg sacs clinging to grasses. We learned that these critters also like to make egg sacs on Azalea bushes. You could find some right in your own backyard. We also found a hole in which harmless garter snakes curl up together for the winter — and even caught a glimpse of one of the inhabitants!
See more photos from our adventure here.