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Archive for the ‘Arthropods’ Category

Misumena vatia on fading peony

It’s peak season for summer tourists in the garden.  Though the regulars are back, what’s lurking between the leaves and petals may surprise you.  The ghost crab spider found on this fading peony is a splendidly camouflaged ambush hunter. Visual feedback from its many eyes cause its color to change according to its surroundings.

Ghost crab spider lying in wait

Meanwhile, back on the hosta plant, this fly doesn’t seem to be buying the spider’s line… at least not this time.  Perhaps it’s already had its fill of summer romance.

"Come into my parlor" said the spider to the fly.

“Come into my parlor” said the spider to the fly.

A hoverfly is more forward in its approach to the last of the purple spiderworts to bloom.  Although this adult hoverfly is looking for a taste of nectar, in its larval stage it likely ate its share of aphids.

hoverfly and spiderwort

Fresh hydrangea blooms look inviting to a fruit fly in search of sustenance.

fly on hydrangea

Or could this visitor just be looking for a nice quiet place to rest its wings for a moment?

Rhagoletis fly on hydrangea

This fly is focused on the nectar of a yellow St John’s wort.

fly on st johns wort

A recently opened lily already has a visitor walking along a petal towards its inner sanctum.

fly on lily petal

Surely flowers must find the never ending flow of visitors tiring.  But even though they might be tempted to utter ‘Come again when you can’t stay quite so long,’ flowers benefit from insect activity for much of their pollination.  And that’s reason enough to tolerate visitors, even those who prey on other guests.

Ghost crab spider waving goodbye

Ghost crab spider waving goodbye

For more on the crab spider in Canada, see The Nature of the Hill’s Goldenrod Crab Spider post.  Cindy in the Swan Hills of Alberta has also included a cool video from Green Nature. 

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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Grasshoppers may only live four months, but they make the most of that time voraciously eating up anything green in their paths. I came across this unusually large one tucking into some mint in my herb garden. The warm sun and all the green leaves made it a perfect place for a hungry grasshopper to spend a summer morning dining at the all-you-can eat buffet.

This grasshopper isn’t the only creature eating its way through our dry summer months.  The leaves on the crab apple tree in the yard are looking worse every day due to the insatiable appetites of tussock moth caterpillars.

Although this is a colorful caterpillar with interesting markings, the adult stage moth is rather drab and gray.

Below,  the large light green leaves of a young striped maple show signs of being gobbled up by spotted apatelodes caterpillars.  This type of maple is also known as moose maple as it is a favorite of moose and deer as well.

This pretty spotted apatelodes caterpillar is not considered common here (for more information, see Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar).  It will also transform itself into a dull gray moth.

spotted apatelodes caterpiillar on moose maple

Thankfully, many grasshoppers and caterpillars are eaten by birds, which are our best defense against these ravenous insects.  Offering water and nesting spots in our yards are two positive things we can do to ensure we keep hungry pests in check.

Although few would be reluctant to attract songbirds to their yards, other predators may be less welcome.  However, as unattractive as spiders may be to some, they do eat their fair share of caterpillars and grasshoppers, and  should at least be tolerated for the sake of their appetites.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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It might look all pretty on the surface, but don’t be deceived.  There’s a fierce and brutal competition going on in local gardens these days.  Many plants depend on insects for cross-pollination in order to ensure the survival of their species.  With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that some are going to be more successful than others at attracting pollinators to their blooms.  Take rhododendrons for example.  Locally, it’s difficult to find a residential street where these showy non-native ornamental shrubs are not in bloom this week.

What does a plant have to do to get some attention from flying insects?  Look bright and beautiful for starters.  And this is something rhododendrons do especially well.  So well in fact that they distract many pollinators from visiting our less showy native species.  Canadian bees probably haven’t heard about the poisonous ‘mad honey’ that’s created with the nectar of rhododendrons.   (See more in Wikipedia’s entry on Grayanotoxin).  They simply target the most spectacular blooms and tuck in.

Many gardeners too likely don’t know that the petals and leaves of common rhododendrons are poisonous and can prove deadly to livestock and children if ingested.

While attracting a good share of pollinators during the daytime, white flowers also catch the attention of night-flying moths with their subtle scent.  What wonderful flying creatures are drawn to these alluring blooms under the moonlight?

In many countries around the globe, common rhododendrons are now considered an invasive species as they’ve taken over the natural understory in some forests.  (See the Wikipedia entry on Rhododendron ponticum).  In the past year, I’ve found two invasive rhododendrons growing in otherwise wild areas on my property.  If they start crowding out the native plants, will I become a rhodi-basher in the years to come?  I hope not, but it can be a jungle out there.

Invasive rhododendrons

June 18th to the 24th 2012 is International Pollinator Week.  Do you know what’s going on in your garden? For more information, see Pollination Canada.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012.

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Bugs may be small and easily taken for granted, but they are most children’s first intimate encounter with a wild animal.  How they are taught to deal with these small creatures sets the tone for their relationships with larger ones such as birds and amphibians.

To a two year old, there’s no such thing as an ant, a wasp or a spider.  They’re all bugs and worth a closer look.   Unfortunately, in their zeal to teach children to be wary of dangerous bugs, many adults tend to not discern between those which are poisonous and those which aren’t.

Wounded wolf spider

By showing their disdain for all bugs and killing any that cross their paths, many adults  inadvertently teach children that all are to be feared and destroyed at every opportunity.

If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.
~ American Quaker Saying

If handled carefully, even a stink bug will not release the smelly substance in its glands.  A gentleness and reverence for all creatures should be taught at an early age.  It’s important to remember that, the younger the child, the more she/he learns by modelling rather than by verbal instruction.  Colonies of ants found under stones are fascinating to watch as they go about their business.  A child who’s shown how to put overturned stones back in place to leave insects undisturbed is more likely to take that care than a child who’s simply told to do so.

Now where did that ant go?

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar.
~ Bradley Millar

Butterflies seem to be the least threatening of bugs to adults and children alike.  Colorful and delicate, a child has to learn both patience and quietness in order to approach them successfully.  This isn’t easy but well worth the effort and practice.

Red admiral butterfly on a crabapple blossom

The reward is a lifetime of being able to see nature in an up-close and personal manner that allows awe and wonder to enhance any time spent outdoors.

Mourning cloak butterfly

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge ~ The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

All text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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The ants are coming! The ants are coming! Actually, they’re already here.   Their large numbers are apparent with every stone I overturn in the yard.  Never have I seen so many so early in the season.

Ants tending their young

During mild winters such as the one we just experienced (the third mildest on record according to Environment Canada) fewer ants succumb to the cold. Consequently, their numbers are higher than usual in the spring and throughout the following summer.

Ants are excellent communicators that are super quick to relay information of new sources of food to one another.   If in doubt, see  Ant Labour.  If you don’t clear the crumbs on your kitchen counter, one ant will tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and before you can sing ‘Happy Birthday’, they’re walking away with the cake.

The ants shown in these photos are all female.  Male ants are the ones with wings.  If you like to admire them at a distance, you might wish to take action to make sure they don’t make their way into your home.  Some people use cucumber or citrus peelings around their foundations.  Others sprinkle strong spices such as cinnamon or pepper across thresholds.

Ants sharing information as they cross paths near the pantry

Many animals, such as birds and amphibians, enjoy incorporating ants into their diets.  Making your yard friendly to these creatures goes a long way to controlling some of the ant population.  See Why Every Princess Needs a Toad in her Garden and The Flying Anteater.

Of course simply keeping things neat, especially in the kitchen, helps to control the number of ants dropping in uninvited for lunch.  Spraying counters with a solution of vinegar and water may smell wonderfully fresh and clean to us, but not to ants.

Good luck with the invasion and please feel free to share any tips you might have.

Text and images copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2012

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maple buds in spring

Canadian maple buds.  Check. 

coltsfoot in bloom

Coltsfoot.  Check.

junco attacking car mirror

Mating-crazed junco obsessed with its reflection in my car’s mirror.  Check.

chickadee and mourning dove calling from treetops

Chickadee and mourning dove calling from the treetops.  Check.  Check.

crawly creatures under rocks

Creepy crawlies under the garden stones:  Millipede, earthworm, beetle, salamander.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

Nova Scotia slug

Slug.  Check.

red squirrel defending its territory

Red squirrel defending its territory.  Check.

snowshoe hare in april

Snowshoe hare on the lawn.  Check.

periwinkle or myrtle

The first periwinkle of the season.  Check.

Hope rekindled.  Check.

 

 

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You may already be aware that nature inspires and refreshes our spirits but did you know that it also influences our speech? Here are a few idioms (words and phrases that hold a special meaning in a given language) that have their roots in the natural world:

A hornet’s nest <Potential trouble> ~ I don’t think anyone would care to poke this nest, even with a ten foot pole.

All that glitters is not gold < Attractive appearances can be deceiving> ~ In this photo of rocks found along the Salt Marsh Trail, it’s pyrite aka fool’s gold.

To mushroom  <To grow or develop at an exponential rate> ~ This enormous shelf fungus seems to be growing more quickly than normal on a decaying tree in my yard.  It’s about a foot in width, an unusual find in my neck of the woods.

Thanks to Karma at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog  who challenged her readers to use photographs to illustrate three idioms from the English language.  A photo showing ‘Hallowe’en’ was also part of her request.  To me, Hallowe’en implies something scary, and to many people, next to death and public speaking, the scariest things on the planet are spiders. 

Living near boggy woods, we have a lot of spiders near our home, especially around Hallowe’en.  Sometimes they cross the threshold uninvited and visit us indoors.  This one  is probably the biggest I’ve ever found in the house.  After the photo shoot, it was promptly sent on its merry way outdoors while I cleared out the cobwebs.

If you’d like to participate in Karma’s idiom challenge, you have until October 31st 2011 to do so.

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Some days just seem to crawl along don’t they?  So little progress is made towards our intended destination that it’s difficult to stay motivated and enthusiastic about the task set before us.  Take heart.  The caterpillars are here to shed some light on a situation that befalls us all at times.

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.
~  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Though we’re already well into the fall season, caterpillars can still be seen roaming the trails.  They seem more determined than usual as they motor along.  Yet compared to us humans, their speed is still painfully slow.  Don’t they get discouraged?  How do they keep their sense of direction intact while crossing such wide expanses? 

Don’t they ever second-guess their goals as they plod along, and wonder if it’s all worth the tremendous effort?

Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum.
~  Tom Watson

No, I don’t think they dwell on the length of the journey or sink into spirals of despair at their slow progress.  They know deep inside that they’re called to a higher purpose.  Their butterfly heart tells them this with each small step they take.

sulphur butterfly

They trust that there will be time enough to fly at the speed of light later. For now, their focus is on the next step, however small it may be. 

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It’s always a bit sad when beloved houseguests leave.  Time flies as you enjoy one another’s company and then, before you know it, they’re gone, and their parting makes the house seem even emptier than it was before their arrival. 

A butterfly that stayed with us since it was discovered in late winter by my grandson was let outside today in the warm  spring sunshine.  Before it left, it unfurled its proboscis to offer a parting kiss.  Well, at least it seemed that way.

Butterflies don’t have mouths.  Instead they have a proboscis that they keep coiled until they find something edible.  Then they unfurl it and sink the end of their proboscis into nectar or whatever else they might consider worthwhile consuming.

Butterflies taste with their feet.  Perhaps this one thought there was something worth checking out further on my hand.

Moments later, the butterfly had taken flight and was on its way. Hopefully it will find a mate soon.  I’ll miss hearing it flutter in the terrarium on sunny days, but will look forward to seeing more of its kind outdoors in the summer months ahead.

All the precious time,
Like the wind the years go by.
Precious butterfly, spread your wings and fly.

~  Bob Carlisle,   Butterfly Kisses

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Although seeing a butterfly in springtime is always a joy, seeing one in winter is sure to set anyone’s heart aflutter. 

These fragile creatures, known for their marvelous ability to transform themselves from caterpillar to winged wonder, have often been employed as symbols of the soul, hope and renewal.

In late winter when there is still the threat of harsh weather, one doesn’t expect to find such a delicate creature in the woods. My grandson was turning a log over in the forest to examine a shelf fungus more closely when he caught sight of the butterfly. 

 Though its wings appeared frosted and stiff, we brought it indoors to have a closer look.  We were quickly able to identify it as a Mourning Cloak  (Nymphalis antiopa), a species that can convert glucose into antifreeze in order to survive the cold.  When its wings are closed, showing only the dark undersides, it’s also extremely well camouflaged in dark woods.

What is unsought will go undetected.
~ Sophocles

Too often, we only see what we expect to.  Adults usually don’t expect to see butterflies in winter.  But a five-year-old wouldn’t have such set expectations, so his eyes would not so easily dismiss the shape of delicate wings for dried leaves.  I wondered how many Mourning Cloaks I had missed seeing in the winter woods over the years.

Within minutes of being indoors, the butterfly was opening its wings.  Though it looked a bit ragged, it was still alive.     

The older we get, the better we learn how to manage expectations.  We don’t like to disappoint others and we especially don’t like to disappoint ourselves so we get into the habit of expecting less of everything around us.  Yet, surely there’s something to be lost in lowering expectations in order to avoid disappointment.  Besides butterflies in winter, what else might we be missing?

High expectations are the key to everything.
~  Sam Walton

Thank you to Joseph Belicek of Edmonton Alberta for identifying this butterfly’s subspecies as hyperborea.

Scott over at Views Infinitum is offering a macro photography challenge to all who are interested.  Deadline for submissions is March 23rd.  The close-up images shown above were made by using the macro mode on the Nikon Coolpix S8000.

 

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Some of my spruce trees are looking bad.  I’m not sure what’s causing the reddening of the buds or the needle damage.  Are these trees being damaged by insects or a fungus?  This would be an ideal time to be able to summon Doctor Bombay for assistance in finding a cure.  As I recall, he was able to cure a weeping willow on one episode of Bewitched and was quite an expert in his use of unconventional methods.

Calling Doctor Bombay!  Calling Doctor Bombay!  Emergency!  Come right away!

One of the spruces is especially affected.  I first noticed a few reddened buds a couple of years ago, but it’s looking worse and worse.  A few other spruces in the yard are affected as well.  Some of these trees also have twigs that are bared of their needles.  Once a tree is damaged in some way, it becomes vulnerable to a host of other diseases.

Could the culprit be the dreaded spruce budworm?  It attacks both firs and spruces throughout North America, damaging whole stands in the process.  First documented in Quebec in 1704, the spruce budworm follows a 35 year cycle.  It last peaked in Nova Scotia in 1976, which means that we’re due for an infestation. 

Forests are usually treated for spruce budworm with spraying.  However, if it is indeed worms that are attacking these buds, I’m wondering if there might be a more natural solution to the problem.  There must be birds that would find these worms tasty.  Also, the grey moths that are the adult stage of the pest are active in the evenings.  Could bats be helpful in controlling them? 

During the winter, the larvae hibernate in crevices on the twigs, waiting to awaken to a scrumptious breakfast of fresh new green buds in the spring.  I’ll be waiting for them.

Reference:  Natural Resources Canada 

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ants

A social structure that designates its older females as warriors instead of its younger males certainly bears closer scrutiny.  Ants are among the hardest workers in the animal kingdom.  They’re organized with a highly functional and specialized workforce.  Their perseverance alone would put most human workers to shame.

Have you ever noticed how quickly every ant in a colony will diligently get to work when disaster strikes and their mound is disturbed?  They don’t fall into depression or accept defeat.  They keep on building and working towards their goals.

Another quality that makes them so efficient is that they are such excellent communicators.  Much of this is done through the use of pheromones, chemical signals picked up by the ants’ antennae.  But they don’t just let one another know about danger.  They also share information about what work needs to be done and where food can be found.  If one ant finds out that your kitchen is a great spot for dining on sweets, then she’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends and before you know it you’re overrun with ants.  And all without the benefit of Twitter.

ant eggs

All worker ants are female which may explain their superior communication skills.  Males can be distinguished by their two sets of wings.  Queens, while being larger, also have wings which are discarded after mating.

Ants are preyed upon mostly by amphibians, birds and spiders.  Bats usually catch the male ants in flight.  In my yard, flickers have to be the ants’ worse enemy.  These are woodpecker-like birds that have a special long tongue similar to the one anteaters have.  They’re able to dig holes in the ground and catch numerous ants, pupae (the cocoon from which adults emerge) and eggs with this raspy tongue.  The holes are everywhere in my lawn.

hole made by flicker

Ants survive Nova Scotia winters by going deeper underground or into dead trees where they receive some protection from the cold.  Worldwide, they’re found on every continent except Antarctica.

No one preaches better than the ant and she says nothing.

~ Benjamin Franklin

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