Crop Circles, Hieroglyphs, Mary

September 13, 2009

Some seductively dark watermelons caught my eye walking through the market  Saturday and I stepped to the stand to peep. I picked up the biggest and turned it over in my hands. The skin had a pattern etched into it. Whoa, look at this baby! Courtney was duly impressed. 

It looks like crop circles, I said, turning to the woman womanning the stall, Have you seen these? She bent over them, Yeah I think that’s a bug, she said, unimpressed. Look there’s more! The pattern was on all of them, to varying extents. I’m gonna buy this one just because of the pattern I told her, you should totally emphasize this, put these out front, they’ll sell like crazy, you’ll be a millionaire! Three bucks she said.

watermelon mosaic virus

I hefted it into the crook of my arm and we walked twenty feet and ran into a neighbor. Hey how’s it going, he said.  Look at this watermelon! I said.  Huh, cool, he said politely.  Have you ever seen anything like this? I persisted, Nature made this! He looked down at it again. Wow, he said. I had succesfully bullied him into affecting excitement. He’s a Lutheran, a professor of theology, I remembered later.  He was probably thinking something else made it.  Plus he’s quiet. But still. C’mon!

papaya ringspot virus

We left them to get some mushrooms. Check out this watermelon, I said to the woman weighing the mushrooms out for me. Oh wow! she said, properly impressed. Finally.  Looks like crop circles she said. Or a hieroglyph, I said.  I see the virgin in there she said. The market is one of the more social events of my week.  It goes without saying I think that I really ought to get out more.

It turns out it’s a virus, not a bug. It’s called watermelon mosaic virus. How it etches those mosaics onto the skin is beyond me, but my first thought was that I needed to infect every melon with the virus just to propogate the cool effects.  Courtney’s first thought was uh-oh, can we still eat it? It turns out the virus “reduces the number of fruit, and retards fruit maturity, but it has no effect on fruit size, weight, or edible quality.” She was relieved that we could eat it (as was I) but sadly I will have to find another way to become a millionaire.

I want to know but still can’t find anything about how a virus can etch a watermelon skin like that.Wasn’t I just saying something about a critter at the helm?  I’m not saying I belee, but dang if that don’t argue strong-ish.

{ 2 trackbacks }

8 Delicious Ideas for Ugly Fruit « It's Not Easy To Be Green
July 20, 2012 at 5:18 am
Watermelon Crop Circles | BBB Seed
February 1, 2014 at 1:52 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julee September 26, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Hi, I had these watermelons at my market today – yup the biggest hit of this cold, blustery Maine morning. Funny thing we started calling them crop circles too!! Thanks for writing up this piece, I didn’t know what was wrong with them to you describe it. Would you mind if I copied your piece onto my website? Julee

2 Cecil Touchon October 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm

That is definitely awesome, how come we have not seen this before? I mean if it is natural, shouldn’t we are be familiar with that? I love that pattern. Obviously starts simultaneously as colonies with the dots then builds out from there until they run into each other. Like building city or something.

3 Stan Starkenburg October 18, 2009 at 8:59 pm

We have noticed the same patterns on our Sugar Baby watermelons for the past two years. It does not affect the striped variety of watermelons. I’m wondering if perhaps an insect ate the green rind when the watermelon was very young, and then as the watermelon matured, it formed scars (similar to scratching your initials on a young pumpkin and seeing your initials raised or highlighted when the pumpkin is mature). I would be interested in knowing what causes these very interesting patterns.

4 Dr Suresh Kunkalikar April 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm

It appears like Papaya ringspot virus-W strain causing ringspot disease in watermelon. The disease is transmitted by an insect vector Thrip.

5 Ted Griess October 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm


Thank you for your writeup on this mysterious phenomina. I am an Extension assistant in Kearney, NE and a couple days ago, a client brought me a specimen with similar marking. I had no idea what caused the concentric rings on the one I have so I sent out an email and image to my colleagues at the University of Nebraska horticulture department. I received a number of cute responses, most attributing the problem to a prank. An entomologist from UNL suggested mosaic virus. After checking out your story and image, I am convinced that is what infected the one I have. Thank you. Don’t you just love the mysterious wonders of nature!

Ted Griess

6 Dr Suresh Kunkalikar December 3, 2010 at 3:41 am

Dr. Suresh Kunkalikar
It appears like an infection by Papaya ringspot virus-W strain causing ringspot disease in watermelon. The disease is transmitted by an insect vector aphids.

7 Andrew October 25, 2012 at 2:15 am

Hi there i was wondering whether or not you would mind letting me use your picture of Watermelon mosaic virus on a wikipedia page that i’m making for it (as an assignment for my plant pathology class).

Please let me know as soon as you can



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