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Archive for the ‘Arthropods’ Category

bumblebee in field of clover

The lawn is laden with clover this week, offering an all-you-can-eat bumblebee buffet.  The bumblebees’ activity is so quick and their movement so constant (they’re as busy as bees you know) that almost every photograph I took of them was blurred.  It was also a challenge to not step on the bees as I attempted to photograph them while they worked.

bumblebee showing pollen basket on clover

As they travel from clover floret to floret seeking nectar, female worker bumblebees fill the pollen baskets on their hind legs.  By the time these baskets are considered full by the bee, each might contain up to a million grains of pollen.  Imagine the care and hard work required to gather so many grains!  This pollen will then be carried home to feed the next generation of bees.

clover floret

Due to their long tongues, bumblebees are the insects most capable of reaching the nectar hidden within the folds of the clover floret.  Bumblebees pay for the pollen grains they gather by cross-pollinating the many clover florets they visit.  They’re hairy little creatures, magnets for any pollen they encounter as they go about their busy work.  Later, back at home, they’ll use special combs on their legs to carefully clean off any pollen that’s left lingering on their bodies.

bumblebee on clover

One can no more approach people without love than one can approach bees without care.  Such is the nature of bees…
~ Leo Tolstoy

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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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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