The last several days, my husband and I were in Santa Fe - DH to play in a golf tournament and me to soak in the sights and flavors of one of my all time favorite cities. Â One day, after putting many miles on my feet, I stopped in the Five and Dime on the Plaza to buy a bottle of water. Â As I waited in line to pay for the water, I heard a familiar "tick, tick" sound coming from the checkout counter. Â Eureka!!! Â Mexican jumping beans!!! Â Now you might ask why I got so excited about finding Mexican jumping beans? Â And I'll answer, "I don't really know". Â
It might be because jumping beans were so common when I was growing up in South and Central Texas that they take me back to the simplicity of play before computers and other electronics. Â All of my friends had Mexican jumping beans and we would spend hours "racing" them, actually betting pennies or candy that our best bean would win (: Â Those were the days! Â Needless to say, I picked up two boxes of jumping beans at the Five and Dime, 5 "beans" in each plastic container. Â There is something so relaxing to me as I hear them "tick, tick" against the container as I sit here and type this!
And I do feel immensely sorry for those who have never experienced the wonder of Mexican jumping beans. Â So I decided to share some information about them.
My magnificent Mexican jumping beans, photo taken just this morning! Â Aren't they pretty? Â And some were "jumping" as I took the photo.
Native to several regions in Mexico, Mexican jumping beans, also known as "brincadores" (the leapers), are thin shelled seed capsules that contain the larva of a small, nondescript gray moth, Laspeyresia saltitans. Â The "beans" are from the deciduous shrub, Sebastiana pavoniana, that have dark green, leathery leaves that turn red during the winter months. Â The jumping bean shrubs grow on rocky desert slopes and along arroyos in the Rio Mayo region of the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Sonora. Â It is not a member of the bean family at all but is in the Euphorbia family. Â Like most euphorbias, the plant exudes a poisonous milky sap when cut. Â In fact, the shrubs are sometimes called "yerba de la flecha" (herb of the arrow) because several native Indian tribes were said to use the sap to poison the tips of their arrows.
Mexican jumping bean shrub,Â
Cydia deshaisiana. Â Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Jumping bean shrubs usually bloom during the spring and summer. Â The female moth will lay her eggs on green, immature capsules of female flowers. Â When the eggs hatch, the tiny, immature larvae eat their way into the soft green carpels. Â By late summer, the capsules of the shrub have separated into three sections, each section splitting open and dropping its seed. Â The carpels that contain moth larvae start "jumping". Â No one knows specifically why the larvae jump. Â The main theory is that it is a way to move the seed carpel out of the hot sun into a shady area under a rock or into a crevice. Â If they don't find a cooler place, they will die. Â However, the beans also jump in shady, cooler areas suggesting other factors involved. Â When there are hundreds of jumping beans under a shrub, the sound is supposed to be like that of the patter of rain on dry leaves. Â
The larva and its web inside a Mexican jumping bean. Â The photo with a blue background shows three carpels forming a complete pod. Â Photo courtesy of phys.org
Â There is a very short video if you click the link.
As winter approaches the larvae spin silken cocoons around themselves. Â They will remain motionless during the winter months as the larva transforms into a pupa. Â The following spring or summer, when jumping bean shrubs are once again in flower, the pupa pushes through a small circular trapdoor in the wall of the carpel (which it created before pupation), the pupal covering splits open, and a small gray moth crawls out of the pupal case. Â The moth only lives a few days, enough time to mate and lay eggs to start the whole process over again. Â
A photo showing pods with the pushed open trapdoors, a pupa shell and the nondescript gray moth a Mexican jumping bean larva transforms into. Â Photo courtesy of greenbuzz
How does the Mexican jumping bean jump? Amazingly, the larva spins a silk lining on the inner walls of the convex shaped carpel. Â By grasping the silk lining with its forelegs and snapping its body, the larva is able to transfer the full force of its movement to the carpel causing it to suddenly "jump". Â The larva also will walk up the side of its pod, causing the bean to roll on a level surface. Â Despite their name, it is very rare that the bean jumps off of the surface. Â As was mentioned earlier, they are much more active when the temperature is hot. Â But mine move around even in the coolness of air conditioning (like they are now as I type this).Â
A whole bunch of Mexican jumping beans ready to be sorted. Â Photo courtesy of fontplaydotcom
Alamos, a small historical town located in the Mexican state of Sonora, calls itself the "Jumping Bean Capital of the World". Â It was there that Joaquin Hernandez, at the age of 12, cornered the jumping bean market in 1921. Â He paid the citizens of the town to bring him the "beans", where he employed people to carefully sift through and pick active jumpers from inactive ones. Â Each year close to 20 million jumping beans are sold worldwide, although I have read that the number is dropping due to overharvesting. Â Maybe that's why I don't see them as much anymore. Â If cared for properly, their life expectancy is usually 3-6 months.Â
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I remember buying Mexican jumping beans as a kid from displays like this (: Â Photo courtesy of Chaparral Novelties
Well, there you have it: Â everything you ever wanted to know about Mexican jumping beans but were afraid to ask - LOL! Â Such simple pleasures that life can offer if we would just take the time to look and experience.
If you would like to make my day, please leave a comment! Â Thanks!
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