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Desert Diary

Arthropods/Leaf Miner


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Mining is an ancient art in the Chihuahuan Desert, with mining of turquoise going back far in time. In more recent years, mining for gold, silver, copper, and other precious or semiprecious material has left the mountains of our desert pierced with tunnels and prospecting pits, denoting attempts to find and then excavate the hidden ores.

There's another sort of miner in our desert though, made up of any number of species of insects that mine, not gold nor silver, but the nutritive innards of leaves: the leaf miners. Adults, who may belong to any of several insect orders, lay their eggs in the spongy plant tissue between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf. On hatching, the larva proceeds to chew its way through the spongy layer, much as a human miner might follow a seam of coal between the rock layers above and below. Next time you see a strange pattern on a leaf, take a closer look; that meandering pale line may just be the tunnel left behind by one of our leaf miners.

pen and ink

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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a production of KTEP, National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



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