Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Leaf miner trails in Texas lantana leaf

with 32 comments

Leaf Miner Trails in Texas Lantana Leaf 7260

The leaves of Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) are fragrant, but of course I can’t convey that to you in a photograph. What I can convey is the intricate design that I found on one of those leaves in Great Hills Park on October 5th. The design isn’t an intrinsic feature of the plant but is caused by any of various insect larvae known as leaf miners.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 25, 2015 at 4:22 AM

32 Responses

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  1. I didn’t know that lantana leaves are fragrant. Do they need to be crushed for the fragrance to be released? Perhaps the native lantanas are more fragrant, and I’ve mostly been around the non-native sorts.

    This tickled me, from your linked article: “Some patterns of leaf variegation are part of a defense strategy employed by plants to deceive adult leaf miners into thinking that the leaf has already been preyed upon.” Sneaky leaves.


    October 25, 2015 at 8:23 AM

    • I’ve found that rubbing a lantana leaf between my fingers imparts enough fragrance to them for me to smell it. I don’t remember if I’ve ever crushed a leaf to see if the fragrance is even stronger. I also don’t think I’ve ever compared non-native lantana leaves, but I’ll try to remember to try the experiment.

      As for the sentence you quoted: sneaky leaves indeed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2015 at 8:37 AM

      • I should add that I also appreciate one of the picture captions in that article: “Leaf with minor miner damage.”

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 25, 2015 at 9:01 AM

  2. Nature’s original artists


    October 25, 2015 at 9:49 AM

  3. I always enjoy looking at leaf miner patterns. I don’t remember seeing one that aligned itself with the central rib like this. Some plants just don’t look quite right if the leaf miner patterns aren’t present.


    October 25, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    • Frostweed is like that. I think I see leaf miner patterns in its leaves more than in those of any other species in my area. In frostweed the trails meander through the leaves, and that’s what I normally see in other plants as well. Like you, I reacted to the pattern in today’s picture because the trails were so centered on the leaf’s midrib. I expect there’s a reason for that, but I don’t know what it is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2015 at 11:34 AM

      • These mines are caused by larvae of Ophiomyia camarae (Agromyzidae), a fly that feeds only on Lantana. The larvae use the midrib as a “home base,” and each little offshoot into the leaf blade represents a separate feeding foray. It is an unusual pattern, but it is made by several unrelated flies and moths on various plants, as well as one beetle that comes to mind (on trumpet creeper).

        Charley Eiseman

        October 25, 2015 at 6:32 PM

        • Thanks for all that information. It helps to have someone who knows the entomological ins and outs (in this case literally) of such things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 25, 2015 at 6:54 PM

  4. Fascinating bit of information, wonderful photo. You really captured some amazing detail.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    October 25, 2015 at 9:08 PM

    • The trails here were different from any I’d seen, so I felt duty-bound to record what I found. The low light kept me from getting the upper margin of the leaf in as much focus as I wanted, but the pattern at the center is sharp.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 25, 2015 at 9:16 PM

  5. Damned leaf miners … I get them in my garden too! They seem to enjoy a host of things.


    October 25, 2015 at 11:59 PM

  6. […] In comments on yesterday’s post and a previous one about leaf miners, Charley Eiseman identified the kinds of insect larvae […]

  7. If you haven’t purchased Charlie’s book on the lesser field guide covered invertebrates, it is extremely handy. That’s how I identified this one…assuming that I did so correctly.

    Common Aspen Leaf Miner…Phyllocnistis populiella (a moth)

    I had photographed the track before but was able to catch the larva in the act for this one. Maybe not “in the act” as it is on the surface…maybe getting ready to pupate somewhere?

    Steve Gingold

    October 26, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    • You did a nice job of photographically mining that aspen leaf. Thanks for the link to the book, which I see runs to almost 600 pages.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2015 at 5:30 PM

      • Coincidentally, I just today saw copies of the book’s third printing for the first time, including two corrections in the chapter on leaf mines. I’ve been working on a “complete” guide to North American leafminers for the past few years, which is why I now notice any time someone mentions them on the internet.

        Charley Eiseman

        October 26, 2015 at 5:39 PM

        • I’m glad you noticed this post and contributed your expertise, and also glad you’re up to a third printing (with corrections).

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 26, 2015 at 6:58 PM

    • Hi Steve–you’ve got the moth ID right, but the larva of this species pupates in a cocoon spun at the end of the mine (inside the leaf). Judging by the ragged hole where the larva is sitting, I think you may have just missed catching an ant in the act of extracting the larva from the leaf. However, you did catch another larva in the act of mining, near the bottom left edge of the leaf.

      Charley Eiseman

      October 26, 2015 at 5:31 PM

      • Hi Charley. That would have been great-for the image, not so much for the larva- had I caught an ant in the act. So when the adult bursts the cocoon it must also burst through the surface of the leaf? Will your “guide” be in print or on your website?

        Steve Gingold

        October 26, 2015 at 6:05 PM

        • I’ve got a (somewhat overexposed) shot of an ant extracting a leaf-mining fly larva here.
          Actually the pupa bursts through the leaf (it has a special pointy “cocoon-cutter” projection on the head) and then splits open to let the adult moth out. The empty pupal skin will remain poking out of the leaf for quite a while afterwards.
          I’m hoping to have this guide appear in printed form, but we’ll see… It’s already massive with just the text, let alone the many hundreds of photos I’d like to include. I suspect I would have to pay someone to publish it rather than the other way around. I may have to resort to online publishing, but I will exhaust all other options first.

          Charley Eiseman

          October 26, 2015 at 6:41 PM

          • I know first-hand what you mean about the economics of book publishing in the age of the Internet, so I’ll commiserate with you. This blog is a consequence of my failed attempts to get likely publishers to pick up the book I’d put together called Portraits of Texas Wildflowers.

            Steve Schwartzman

            October 26, 2015 at 7:03 PM

            • Now Texas Wildflower Portraits OTOH…did you think of trying to raise funds with GFM?

              Steve Gingold

              October 26, 2015 at 7:13 PM

              • I thought a little bit about organizations like GoFundMe but I confess I didn’t pursue them. My understanding is that the success of a project of that sort depends heavily on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which I’m not adept at using (I don’t have five thousand “friends”). Maybe I should take another look now, some six years later, and see what’s involved these days.

                Steve Schwartzman

                October 26, 2015 at 7:44 PM

          • Who cares about the slight overexposure! That’s a damn good shot, Charley.

            As with your book, I think you are covering ground not found elsewhere, at least not as expansively. There must be a demand. Somehow, I think the folks who give money to the GoFundMe thing might not be as excited about the subject. You never know though.

            Steve Gingold

            October 26, 2015 at 7:12 PM

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