Life In An Oak

Photo ©

Oaks (Quercus) are a foundational tree genus and the official tree of the United States. Found throughout North America–in almost every habitat–their lives are intertwined with those of innumerable other organisms that feed on and interact with these ecologically-remarkable trees. For our Life In An Oak poster we selected a handful of species that represent a diversity of ecoregions from coast-to-coast to illustrate the critical roles of the oak in our ecosystems.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

John Muir

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big oak image

Photo ©

Working from the left side of the image to the right, the following species in the image are:

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus)
Virginia’s Warbler (Leiothlypis virginiae)
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)
Ilia underwing (Catocala ilia)
Hen-of-the-wood mushroom (Grifola frondosa)
Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
Lichen (Lichenas)
Red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)
Inky caps mushrooms (Coprinellus micaceus)
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)
Acorn weevil (Curculio glandium)
Globular drop snail (Olygyra orbiculata)
Curled leaf moss (Ulota crispa)

owl uploaded

Photo © Flood G.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Majestic nocturnal owls are frequent residents in oak woodlands throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The tall, strong, meandering branch structure provides ample roosting and nesting opportunity while the oak habitat provides favored acorn food for squirrels and mice making them excellent hunting grounds for Great Horned Owls.

Red Fox

Photo © Andrew Hoffman

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Red foxes utilize oaks for denning (as with the pups in the image above) and as a source of food–consuming both the acorns themselves and the rodents who rely on them. Found throughout most of the United States (minus the southwest) and Canada, red foxes sometimes surprise people with their omnivorous diet of small rodents, reptiles, and birds, but also berries and acorns when they are available. Dens built in the roots of a large oak can last for decades and will often be used season after season for raising pups.

Oak Titmouse

Photo © Frank D. Lospalluto

Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus)
An Oak Titmouse, appropriately named, is considered the “voice and soul” of western, dry oak forests found as far north as southern Oregon and as far south as Baja, Californiaopen_in_new. They are ecologically-tied to oak woodlands for foraging, nesting, and as mating territory. While they do consume acorns, they also eat a variety of other berries, nuts, and insects.

Virginia's Warbler

Photo © Dave Krueper

Virginia’s Warbler (Leiothlypis virginiae)
Considered by some to be a drab-colored warbler, this species is found breeding in dry mountainous areas of California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Texas. Preferring insects, they frequently nest in oaks and can be found singing in them from the tree tops and forging for one of the hundreds of different species of caterpillar that use oaks as their host. Climate projections for increasingly hotter and drier weather makes these birds a possible “climate change threatened” species as the habitat they rely on is projected to shrink in response to changing climateopen_in_new.

Sapsucker

Photo © Nick Dean

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)
A brilliant crimson-colored sapsucker drilling rings of holes around trees can be witnessed in western, predominantly coniferous forests as far north as Alaska and as far south as northern Baja. Red-breasted Sapsuckers survive on the sap they extract from their oozing tree-ring holes, tree-dwelling insects, and fruit. They prefer conifers, but will utilize oaks for sap-meals and some breeding activity.

Ilia Underwing

Photo © Scott King, John and Kendra Abbott

Ilia underwing (Catocala ilia)
Both the caterpillar and the adult moth ilia underwing is depicted in this artwork. Like most North American Lepidoptera, Catocala ilia, has a specific host species it requires for food and egg-laying–the black, burr, red, and white oaks are where it is at for this moth! As the pictures reveal this species blends in beautifully with oak trees, while the adult moth can display a fiery red underwing Found east of the Rockies and southern Canada, they are most abundant in eastern deciduous forests.

mushroom fixed

Photo © caspar S

Hen-of-the-wood mushroom (Grifola frondosa)
This cream-to-brown-to-grey-colored, wavy, fan-shaped fungus is usually found in association with oak trees–growing at the base, or from the subterranean roots. It causes butt rot, a fantastic name for the decay of the tree caused by fungi. Hen-of-the-woods is common east of the Rockies, but rare in western states. It is well-loved for the table.

Gray treefrog

Photo © https://www.flickr.com/photos/davemedia/10312479366/in/faves-127133405@N02/

Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
Champions of camouflage, these treefrogs can be various shades of gray and green, designed to blend into the often lichen- and moss-covered trees of southern Canada and northern and eastern United States woodlands. They are arboreal in adulthood, living high in trees, except during the spring breeding season when they descend at night to lay their eggs in vernal pools, shallow woodland ponds, gardens, or swamps.

Lichen

Photo © Wayne S. Grazio

Lichen (Lichenas)
These colorful, structurally-complex organisms grow in ways that are reminiscent of moss; and, they are often mistaken for being in the kingdom Plantae. An old naturalist mnemonic might help you, too, remember that lichens are a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae (or cyanobacteria): “Freddy the fungus and Angie the algae took a ‘lichen’ to each other.” They can slowly grow on various substrates such as rocks, walls, roofs, and trees, including oaks. Their presence is used as an eco-indicator of good air quality.

Salamander

Photo © Justin Meissen

Red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)
Red-backs are small, terrestrial woodland salamanders that live under rocks, logs, bark, and among other moist forest-floor-debris. The dense, slow-to-decompose leaf litter characteristic of oak woodlands provides ideal conditions for these salamanders which need to stay moist for foraging and reproduction activities.

Inky Caps

Photo © Ed Hunsinger

Inky caps mushrooms (Coprinellus micaceus)
Growing in dense clusters, often at the base of hardwood trees (such as oaks), inky cap mushrooms are delicate, thin, shiny-fleshed mushrooms giving them one of their common names, “shiny cap”. More interestingly, the phrase “inky cap” describes the black, inky color of the gills and the process of deliquescence all the mushrooms in this genius use to distribute their spores by autodigesting (literally, self-eating). You can just see this process starting in the image on the right, where the margins of the cap appear to dissolve. These mushrooms have a large distribution as far north as Alaska and even on the Hawaiian Islands; growing where there are hardwood trees. (PS-the brownish-yellow slug in the picture is a common species in the coastal west, commonly called a banana slug–they love to eat mushrooms).

Ovenbird

Photo © Diane Bricmont

Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)
Ovenbirds are a unique warbler, spending much of their time foraging on the ground for insects, instead of in the upper tree canopy with the other warblers. The dense leaf litter of Oak woodlands is ideal invertebrate habitat, and Ovenbirds can often be found there taking advantage of the hunting this affords. They live predominantly in broadleaf forests spending their summers in the United States (east of the Rockies) and Canada while winters are spent in southern Florida, Mexico, Central and South America.

Acorn Weevil

Photo © tobyjug5

Acorn weevil (Curculio glandium)
Acorn weevils may look like they stepped right out of a Star Wars movie, but they are a common inhabitant of oak woodlands if you look closely. They are intimately dependent on oaks. If you have ever found an acorn with a small hole in it, there is a high probability that that acorn was used as a nursery for an acorn weevil. Found on the sides of acorns, the holes can be attributed to the long snouts of the female acorn weevils that are used for drilling holes into the acorns. Once the holes are drilled, they lay their eggs inside the nut and secure the hole with their feces until the larvae are ready to emerge, where upon they pupate in the soil.

snail on oak

Photo © Tim Proffitt-White

Globular drop snail (Olygyra orbiculata)
Olygyra orbiculata are a terrestrial mollusk consistently found in woodlands, such as oak forests. As the picture indicates, these snails will use the deep fissures found in some species of oak bark for shelter during dry periods. While “holed-up” it uses its operculum to tightly close its shell to retain a moist environment. Globular drop snails are the only terrestrial snail to have an operculum.

Curled Leaf moss

Photo © bdunc photos

Curled leaf moss (Ulota crispa)
Ulota crispa is a common, eastern woodland epiphyte, meaning it attaches to and grows on the surface of another plant, in this case an oak tree. Epiphytes get their nutrients from the sun, air, and rainwater but attach to a larger plant (usually a tree), which they use only as an anchor to afford it easier, often higher-up access to light. This moss is soft and spongy during wet conditions, but desiccates and hardens during long dry spells. It can be seen on trees in North America as far west as Wisconsin, as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Georgia–with small populations in Alaska.

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Photo ©

These are just a few of the many, many species that utilize oaks in their life-cycle. Pictured is word art of some the Lepidoptera that utilize oaks but are not pictured in the artwork. Impressive how important these trees are to so many species. Long live the Oaks.

And…

Humans and Oaks

Photo ©

We’d be exclusionary if we did not recognize the numerous ways that humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) utilize oaks in their habitats (depicted at the bottom of the image from left to right).

Site for park bench (maybe provided the wood for it too) (Site parco scamnum)
Lining city streets and providing shade (Acies urbs via)
Tire swing anchor (Trigare adductius sublatis ancoris)
Saplings in yard (Virgultum navale)
To sit under (Sit sub)

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Beautiful original Life in an Oak artwork was created by two Bartels Science Illustration Interns at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the Habitat Network Project.

Justine Lee Hirten:
J.L. Hirten is an experienced illustrator and wildlife rehabilitator. She studied science illustration under the guidance of artists-in- residence at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago where she also worked as an intern in their ornithology lab preparing, organizing, and illustrating specimens. She then went on to graduate from the California State University of Monterey Bay Science Illustration program in 2013. She believes that research, conservation, and education about birds is an essential part of preserving the natural world, and that birds are some of the best ambassadors for nature. To see more of her work, visit her webpage: justineleehirten.com

Virginia Greene:
Virginia Greene is an illustrator and biologist with a special interest in birds: her bookshelves are full of field guides, her master’s thesis was on bird behavior, and her sketchbooks are brimming with sketches of birds. Virginia earned an MFA in Illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design (2013), and an MS in Biology from the College of William and Mary (2016).
Virginia’s versatile style makes use of a variety of media: watercolor, gouache, graphite, ink, and digital painting. Her illustrations are inspired by studying the natural world and infused with a sense of humor. To see more of her work, visit her webpage: www.virginiagreeneillustration.com

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