Q. Dear Twig: All right, I'll ask. What eats Osage oranges?
A. Osage oranges, the fruit of the Osage-orange tree, aren't in fact oranges. Maybe you remember that from last week or the week before. And while people eat Osage orange relatives — the fibery fig, the tasty mulberry, the giant green tropical breadfruit, the just as green and even gianter (as big as a watermelon!) tropical jackfruit — they don't eat Osage oranges. The flesh is said to be bitter. I haven't tried it myself. It's not super-poisonous — a plus — but still might make you puke — a minus.
Animal-wise, deer, birds, horses and squirrels, to name a few, have been seen eating Osage oranges, either the flesh or the seeds inside. But experts disagree on how much the animals actually eat, how often they do it and even if they do it at all.
Know what else ate Osage oranges? Big extinct North American animals such as mammoths, ground sloths and mastodons. In doing it they helped spread the seeds around.
OK, enough about Osage oranges.
P.S. Scientists call it "seed dispersal" when animals eat seeds then later, erm, "disperse" them.
Scientists think those big extinct North American animals — not only mammoths, ground sloths and mastodons but camels, horses, stag moose and glyptodonts — might have been the Osage-orange tree's vital "dispersal partners." That is, the tree evolved to have those creatures eat its fruit and spread its seeds. Some seeds would end up in a good place to grow; the species would survive or even spread. There's a very cool book called The Ghosts of Evolution by Connie Barlow that talks about this.
Some of the details about what eats Osage oranges came from a U.S. Forest Service Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/macpom/all.html.
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Nearly, Pretty Much Almost Entirely Non-Osage-orange-related Twig Book Pitch:
Twig has a new book out: Beware the Flying Steamer Duck! Birds and What They Doo (ages 9+, $9.95, 116 pp.) — a compilation of 41 bird-related "Smart Stuff" columns. Order it, if you're so inclined, from CommTech, OARDC/OSU, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Make checks payable to Ohio State University. For details, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (330) 263-3780. Also, Twig's first two books are now back in print in completely new editions: Purple and Green and Stinky in Spring (bugs, plants, water, wildlife, farming) (including a story about Osage oranges!) (ages 9+, 116 pp.) and Hairy Blenny and the Monkeyface Prickleback (freshwater life) (ages 9+, 96 pp.). Both are $9.95 each. Or buy all three for $25.95 and save four bucks.