Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Greenbrier and leafminer

with 19 comments

Greenbrier Leaf with Leafminer Trails 8681

Pictures of the thorny vine called greenbrier, Smilax bona-nox, have appeared a bunch of times in these pages, but only once with a hint of the kind of curious path visible here so extensively. Contorted trails like these are the handiwork—though no hands are involved—of insect larvae called leaf miners (or leafminers), about which you can mine more information in a Wikipedia article.

Today’s photograph comes from a wooded and therefore shaded area in the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt on December 18th. That turned out to be my last photo session for 2013, but a productive one; you’ll see further fruits of it in the posts that follow.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2014 at 6:03 AM

19 Responses

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  1. I’d like to think that little leaf-miner started at the bottom, practiced for a while with those small, looping curlicues, then grew purposeful, broadening and straightening its path to the upper half of the leaf.

    I wonder if the end of its path is related to that “bite” that was taken out of the upper edge of the leaf? No telling, but lots of imagining.


    January 18, 2014 at 7:57 AM

    • I wonder if scientists who examine a leafminer trail through a microscope can tell the direction in which the insect moved. My impression is that the eaten-out part of the leaf at the top is independent of the leafminer trail that runs alongside it, and for evidence of my proposed unrelatedness I offer the smaller eaten-out area to the left of the larger one. In this case, too, entomologists may well know the answer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      • Determining the direction of travel is easy: the trail widens as the larva grows, so we know that the larva started at the narrow end. In fact, it appears that the larva is still inside the wide end of the mine. You’re quite right that the “bites” at the leaf edge are unrelated. The mine is caused by a moth, Marmara smilacisella (Gracillariidae), whose larva does all of its feeding inside the mine, emerging only when ready to spin its cocoon.

        Charley Eiseman

        October 25, 2015 at 6:41 PM

  2. Fascinating journey…


    January 18, 2014 at 8:12 AM

  3. I’ve seen many examples of these markings around here.

    Jim in IA

    January 18, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    • Yes, it’s a pretty common phenomenon, one that I often see. Some species of plants—frostweed comes to mind as the prime example in my experience—seem to lend themselves to it a lot more than others.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2014 at 10:16 AM

  4. When I first saw this picture on my screen I thought of an island with the harbour at the top and main roads leading to smaller trails at the bottom. I know. I’m mad.


    January 18, 2014 at 2:14 PM

  5. […] 18th walk in the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt that brought you the preceding pictures of leafminer trails and a colorful agarita […]

  6. Very interesting info. That’s what I love about reading your blog – I am guaranteed to get an education. On a side note the shape of the leaf reminds me of batman! 😀

    Michael Glover

    January 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    • Thanks for your support, Michael.

      You saw Batman, and the indentation in the upper part of the leaf reminded me of the eastern part of Australia’s northern coastline.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2014 at 4:37 PM

  7. What a great aerial map!


    January 20, 2014 at 6:22 PM

  8. […] In comments on yesterday’s post and a previous one about leaf miners, Charley Eiseman identified the kinds of insect larvae involved and told some interesting things […]

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