MINI8    5' Mini-mysteries for the mouse detective

Michaela Mouse lived in a hole under the roots of a large tree.
One day she heard a knock at the door. When she opened it, she
saw her friend the robin red-breast who lived in the tree above.

"Something is wrong!" exclaimed the robin, "I think those little
aphids are back!"

"Why do you say that?" asked Michaela mouse.

The robin asked, "You remember when those little aphids drilled
holes in the roses and sucked out the nectar?"

"Yes," replied Michaela, "the flowers wilted. Are you saying
that the roses are wilting again?"

"Not the roses." explained the robin, "This time it's the
elderberries and the blackberries."

Michaela thought for a moment, then replied, "Wait a minute,
elderberries and blackberries grow on trees. I don't think the
mouth parts of aphids are long enough or strong enough to drill
holes in tree bark."

"Well, whatever it is, the berries are drying up right when we
need to feed our baby birds." said the robin, "Can't you do
something about it?"

"I'll investigate." said Michaela as she headed over to the
berry trees. She climbed up the trunk of the closest berry tree
and out to the ends of the limbs where the leaves and the
berries grow. She inspected the undersides of the leaves with
her tiny magnifying glass.

"Just as I thought!" said Michaela mouse.

"So, it's not aphids?" asked the robin.

"No sign of them anywhere." replied Michaela Mouse.

She stood up on her hind legs and looked around and up and down
the tree. She noticed that some branches had all fat, juicey
berries, but on some branches of that very same tree, ALL the
berries were dry and shriveled, like raisons. The same was true
for all the trees nearby.

"Aha!" exclaimed Michaela.

"Did you find something?" asked the robin.

"Yes." replied Michaela Mouse, "Whatever is attacking this tree
is damaging the entire branch. But I don't see any cuts or holes
in any of the branches."

So, she inspected every inch of a branch that had dry, shriveled
berries. After a hour she exclaimed, "Aha!"

"Did you find something?!" asked the robin.

Michaela Mouse replied, "The only damage I can see from the
outside is a small hole here in the tree bark near the tree

"What does that mean?" asked the robin.

Michaela Mouse explained, "There's only a couple of insects who
can drill a hole in the bark of a tree, then crawl under the
bark and stay there where we can't see them."

"Which insects?" replied the robin.

Michaela Mouse explained, "It's either termites or bark beetles.
In this case, the berries are wilting because the wood this
insect is chewing contains the teeny tiny hoses that carry the
nectar out to the berries. Termites eat deeper into the wood.
Only bark beetles eat the soft new wood just under the bark of
the tree like this."

"How can we stop these... bark beetles?!" asked the robin.

Michaela Mouse replied, "You and the other robins need to go
into the woods on the other side of the creek and invite the
woodpeckers to come to the park."

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed the robin, "Woodpeckers are birds!"

"That's right." replied Michaela, "So?"

The robin exclaimed, "So, this park already has too many birds!
We don't need more!"

Michaela Mouse began climbing down the tree trunk, "Well, okay.
I told you how to get rid of the bark beetles. If you don't want
to get rid of them, it's up to you. I'm not the one who eats the

The robin flew down to the branch below, "Wait a minute. I'm
sorry, Michaela Mouse. You're right. We need those woodpeckers
to get rid of those beetles and get our berries back. We'll do

The next morning, bright and early the park was filled with the
"ratatatat" of woodpeckers pecking the trunks and branches of
the berry trees.

The robin exclaimed, "Do they have to make all that noise?!"

Michaela Mouse explained, "Yes, of course. They pound on the
bark and listen for the sound of the bark beetles underneath.
When they find the bark beetles, they peck harder to drill a
hole in order to get at the beetles."

Then Michaela Mouse pointed at one of the woodpeckers nearby,
saying, "Look."

Just then, the woodpecker had finished drilling a hole through
the bark of the berry tree and pulled out what looked like a
white caterpillar and swallowed it whole.

"That's not a bark beetle!" exclaimed the robin, "That's a

Michaela smiled and explained, "Bark Beetles are just like
butterflies. When they have babies, their babies don't look
anything like their mothers and fathers. They look more like
worms. But after they eat their fill of the tree wood, they'll
go into a cocoon and change into a beetle."

Within two days, the woodpeckers found and ate all of the bark
beetles that were damaging the berry trees. Then they flew back
into the woods across the creek. And the park was silent again.

Thanks to the great detective work of the world's greatest mouse
detective, the berry trees in the park were saved!

2013 Bob Snook. Conditions for use:
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