A bit of animated lichen

On this fine, first day of December 2013, Kelly Tindall and I were out and about in Milan, TN. Like most of you when outdoors, I was watching tree bark very closely and saw a tiny piece of lichen move with that characteristic ‘hidden insect’ motion used by stick insects and the like.

A bit of animated lichen

A bit of animated lichen

Now, I always enjoy a good nature blog post where the writer is able to name everything in the blog post no matter how obscure. I thought that my finding an animated bit of lichen on 1 December 2013 on the bark of Magnolia grandiflora was pretty cool. I knew I could not name the lichen species involved in the shelter, and figured the tiny larva was going to remain unknown. Still that insects (e.g. Cercopidae and Trichoptera) can build shelters is amazing and that these shelters can be camouflage also is a two birds/one stone sort of deal – and I thought this provided an opportunity to share that nugget of wonder. Another cool bit is that the lichens appear to remain alive, so the insect could actually be a dispersal mechanism for the lichen…

The insect was so tiny, but i wanted Kelly to see it move, so we ended up bringing it home. In the truck on the way home we played guess the larva. I was driving (a major handicap in this game) and Kelly quickly deduced it was Neuroptera

When the lichen bit is flipped over and you wait a bit you can see the insects face (from underneath).

When the lichen bit is flipped over and you wait a bit you can see the insects face (from underneath).

and remembered that some Chrysopidae have debris carrying larvae. When we got home, I ran to the microscope to see how amazingly cool this insect is. The photo at left is taken holding my cell phone to the eyepiece of my microscope – it is what you get. It would be better if you could come over and see it, but the photo is easier to share. I tried to take a video of it moving under the microscope, but that was awful. Tomorrow I will put the insect out on a lichen covered tree.


6 thoughts on “A bit of animated lichen

  1. Roxane Magnus

    The first time I saw some lichen move and took it and put in under the scope I was startled….didn’t expect to see the ferocious head of a Neuoptera.

  2. George Sims

    If I remember introductory botany correctly, aren’t lichens are a “composite” of algae (usually blue-green) and fungi (usually ascomycetes), do they HAVE individual specific names???

    1. biologistsoup Post author

      Yes George, they do! There are lichen taxonomists and even lichens of conservation concern. They are pretty amazing. When I was working as a botanist I chased quite a few lichens. In forest situations, the bga’s in lichens may be responsible for a large portion of plant available nitrogen. They are very important and overlooked.


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