Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Beetle galleries

with 36 comments

While waiting on January 18th for a leaking tire to get dealt with I went for a one-hour walk, a main portion of which took me along Stonelake Blvd. north of Great Hills Trail. The properties lining both sides of the road there are owned by the University of Texas but have never been developed. At one point, only several feet in from the sidewalk I noticed a couple of leaning dead tree trunks whose outer bark had mostly come off and revealed in the phloem, or inner bark, the trails of insects that had lived there.

From an informative article I learned that those trails are known as beetle galleries because the insects that produce them are beetles. Another reason for the term is that the original sense of gallery was architectural, ‘a covered part of a building, commonly in the wings, used as an ambulatory or place for walking,’ and it’s the walking around of the insects that create the trails in the phloem. By a happy coincidence, the main current meaning of gallery also fits the fact that many people consider these designs to be works of art, specifically woodcarvings. To maintain the abstraction I’ve tightly cropped the photographs

I don’t know what local species produced the beetle galleries in these pictures, but you’re welcome to look at some characteristic galleries identified by species.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2021 at 4:31 AM

36 Responses

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  1. Art by nature 🙂 Nice !

    picpholio

    January 30, 2021 at 4:37 AM

  2. Very nice photos. Lots of detail and texture. Bark beetles are responsible for the destruction of lots of trees in the USA…

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 30, 2021 at 7:11 AM

    • Detail and texture: a photographer’s joy. I don’t know if these galleries harmed the trees, which were dead, but which might have died of other causes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2021 at 7:18 AM

  3. As pretty as these abstract designs may appear to the artistically minded person, we must not forget that the beetles which created the galleries are killing the tree.

    Peter Klopp

    January 30, 2021 at 8:22 AM

    • The previous commenter mentioned that, too. I know so little about these beetles that it’s not clear to me if beetles of this sort always do damage to trees, or only sometimes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2021 at 8:32 AM

      • A few years ago, the attack of the pine beetle on our forests has been devastating in BC. Global warming has contributed to the proliferation of this pest. Two weeks of 30 C below freezing is needed to kill the pine beetle slumbering underneath the bark.

        Peter Klopp

        January 30, 2021 at 6:18 PM

        • I’m sorry to hear about the depredations of the pine beetle in your province. Let’s hope the predators of those beetles shift north as well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 30, 2021 at 6:55 PM

  4. Beetles can kill trees (pine bark beetles, for example) but just as often beetle species will move into an already stressed tree. Drought or fungal disease can make a tree more susceptible to their incursions.

    It’s interesting that ‘gallery’ originally was associated with walking. When I think of it in architectural terms, I always think of it as a place for sitting. That’s certainly true in the American south, especially in Louisiana. The relatives I’d stay with in Baton Rouge when I was a kid always spoke of what I called a front porch as a gallery, and during my more recent visits, I’ve often heard the term used that way.

    I like the abstract patterns left by the beetles. They remind me of the work of leaf miners.

    shoreacres

    January 30, 2021 at 9:32 AM

    • There even are double galleries.

      shoreacres

      January 30, 2021 at 9:33 AM

      • Does that make it twice as likely that works of art will be hung in those galleries?

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 30, 2021 at 9:53 AM

        • During Mardi Gras it certainly does. In New Orleans and Galveston, parades have been cancelled, so Krewes are decorating houses as floats. On the weekend before Fat Tuesday, there will be a tour — homeowners will toss beads and such from their galleries! I’ll pass on that event, but I do intend to find a midweek afternoon to go down and see if I can get some good photos.

          shoreacres

          January 30, 2021 at 10:01 AM

          • Good luck. Midweek is also a good time to visit Palmetto State Park. As yesterday was Friday, more and more people who had reservations to camp there over the weekend kept arriving.

            Steve Schwartzman

            January 30, 2021 at 1:58 PM

    • When I wondered what to call this phenomenon, the first term that came to mind was “leaf miner,” but I knew that couldn’t be right because no leaves are involved. Still, with that term as a starting point, searches eventually led me to beetle galleries. As for the word gallery, I already knew that it came from the geographic name Galilee. I see now that as the lower-case galilee it came to mean ‘a small chapel or porch at the western end of a medieval English church.’ De-secularize that and you have the ‘porch’ meaning of gallery that you mentioned hearing in Louisiana. There’s more about it in the Our Living Language section of the entry at

      https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=gallery

      In any case, the abstract designs shown here fascinated me, and I may go back with my real camera for more pictures; the ones you see here I took with my iPhone.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2021 at 9:51 AM

  5. I see these galleries often when splitting our firewood when the bark comes loose. I’ve never photographed the bark borer larvae that make them. Guess I now have an assignment for next time I split.

    Steve Gingold

    January 30, 2021 at 5:53 PM

  6. They’ve created such nice designs. Interesting about gallery.

    Jane Lurie

    January 30, 2021 at 8:12 PM

    • I don’t know why I hadn’t paid attention to wooden designs like this before; they sure are photogenic. Gallery does have an interesting etymology, as do many other words. Ever since I first took linguistics in college I’ve been intrigued by such things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 30, 2021 at 8:30 PM

  7. I love the imagery! I’ve always found the galleries interesting and now I know the name for them!

    Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

    January 30, 2021 at 9:17 PM

    • Like you, I never knew the name till these pictures made me go searching so I could announce what the post was about. On the other hand, the designs, even if nameless, would still speak for themselves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2021 at 5:56 AM

  8. That’s fascinating, Steve, especially the info on the other types of beetle galleries. Thanks for including that.

    Jenny

    Jenny Meadows/My Copy Editor, New Zealand/USA A Professional Copy Editing & Proofreading Service Making Authors More Successful See what authors are saying at http://www.mycopyeditor.com Email me at meadowsjen@gmail.com ~OR~ Text me at +64-21-028-43899. Use Whatsapp, a free international service, from outside NZ:

    Jenny Meadows

    January 31, 2021 at 4:06 AM

    • Hello, Jenny. It’s good to hear from you again on your island(s) of mobility and sociability in the Pandemic Sea. I came across the linked article in my search for more information about beetle galleries. I still don’t know what specific kind of insect made the ones in these pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2021 at 5:59 AM

  9. Great pictures and an interesting explanation.

    susurrus

    January 31, 2021 at 8:14 AM

  10. Dead and dying trees have so much to offer any passerby and photographer. I had never heard of beetle galleries, but I have observed the work for many years in our own woodlands. Thank you for doing the research to enlighten all of us. The Washington Trails Assn. article was very informative.

    Littlesundog

    January 31, 2021 at 8:53 AM

    • I’m glad I could enlighten us about this phenomenon a little. No matter how much we learn, there’s always so much more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2021 at 4:31 PM

  11. They are interesting and beautiful works of insect art. 🙂

    Lavinia Ross

    January 31, 2021 at 12:38 PM

    • It’s fortunate I took that walk, as these specimens were particularly photogenic (even if getting the pictures wasn’t easy).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2021 at 4:32 PM

  12. I can’t help but think that beetle-larva trails such as these may have provided inspiration for the creation of maze puzzles. I’ve seen many of them through the years, and I find that my eye always wants to follow each trail to see where it leads and how it might connect to others–or will it wind up at a dead end?

    krikitarts

    February 2, 2021 at 2:25 AM

  13. I recently stumbled across a tree like this. I’ll probably post a couple photos of it in the coming weeks. It almost reminded me of printed circuit boards. Fascinating all the patterns created by nature. Thanks much for sharing both your photos and the informative links.

    Todd Henson

    February 2, 2021 at 5:35 PM

    • You’re welcome. That’s a good comparison to printed circuit boards, though I think the trails in wood are less regular than those. And yes, my recent posts have been pattern-heavy, here in wood and elsewhere in ice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2021 at 5:39 PM

  14. I love these photographs, Steve, you’ve shown the beetle galleries to their best advantage. I also love the fact that you found them while walking around, waiting for your tire to be fixed.

    bluebrightly

    February 4, 2021 at 6:56 PM

    • I was taken with these galleries as soon as I caught sight of them, especially the one shown in the first picture. Waiting for my tire to get attended to certainly played a part, because although I drive along that street often enough, I hadn’t walked there in years, and only walking allowed me to spot the markings on the dead trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2021 at 7:20 PM


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