Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bird's-foot trefoil and wasps

The bird's-foot trefoil is flowering all over the 2011 planting area. As I've noted in the other planting areas, the trefoil forms large tangled mats the second year after the lawn is left uncut. It can crowd out other plants for a year but it doesn't maintain its ascendancy for more than a year. The grasses come back in the third year and other plant's that can't withstand cutting start establishing themselves.

The wasp queen's nest I visited in May is somewhere in the middle background of the above photograph. She now has about a half dozen daughter's helping her take care of the hive. I'm sure they appreciate the bountiful supply of nectar flowering all around them.

Appropriately for the end of June, there have been plenty of June bugs flying around at dusk. They like to hover and fly around the tree branches. I'm not sure why they do it, but presumably it has something to do with attracting a mate. I imagine the bats that come out when it is darker pick off many of the June bugs as they slowly fly around.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One more bug in the grass

The bugs in the above picture and the picture to the right are another species of meadow plant bug from the family miridae: Leptopterna dolabrata (aka Meadow Plant Bug). It is another import from Europe that is very commonly found on grass seed panicles. The one to the right is a male while the one above is a female with under-developed wings. I took these photos a little over a week ago when these bugs were quite common but now when I go back, they have all disappeared. I'm not sure where they have all gone, perhaps they don't like the hot and dry conditions or perhaps they have all gone on to another stage of their lifecycle.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Two-Spotted Grass Bugs

It was a very hot first day of summer today. We are in a bit of a heat wave the past couple of days. All the plants are growing vigorously but I'm sure they were water stressed in the mid-day sun. These Two-Spotted Grass Bugs were all over the Timothy this afternoon. They stayed in the shady side but scuttled over to the far side of the panicle whenever the camera came near. It seemed to be the motion that disturbed them. I could take the close-up shots by holding the camera steady and twisting the grass stem around to bring the bugs into view.

I've been slowly learning my grasses this week. Here is a useful grass identification document. I am making slow progress but I really wish there was the equivalent of the around for plants. The bug guide has dozens of very good pictures of the common bugs with which you can compare your specimen to the range of photographs taken by others. The Two-spotted Grass Bug for example seems to be quite variable in colouration; some are black with a bit of orange, like the one below, while others are more yellow with a bit of black. I have yet to find an online guide that would provide the equivalent image quality for grasses. I had been misidentifying Quack grass with Ryegrass until today because the identification photos online were so poor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Plant Bugs hiding in plain sight

This little bug hanging out on a grass seed panicle is a Megaloceroea Recticornis. It is an import from Europe hanging out on another import from the old world: a tall fescue. It is amazing how foreign this common roadside environment is; practically all the grasses are non-natives, and when I attempt to identify a bug or insect it often turns out to be a non-native as well. I suppose it makes sense that the non-native bugs would do well among these alien plants. The one to the right already has the elaborate camouflage to mimic a green grass spikelet. They probably are well suited to this grassy environment in many less obvious ways, such as their digestive system and the timing of their life cycle.

To the left is a photograph of another Megaloceroea Recticornis. You can see its feed tube through which it is sucking up the grass's juices from the spikelet. These insects can only feed while the seeds are still green and growing. The bluegrass which is the most common grass in the naturalization area has already turned brown. This has probably concentrated the remaining grass feeding insects onto the green fescue and the timothy. The insects are particularly easy to spot on the tall compact spikes of the timothy. Right now it seems like every timothy panicle has a variety of plant bugs crawling all over it.

Megaloceroea Recticornis is named for its large straight antenna. Antenna are sensory organs for insects that they may use to smell or feel, but somehow I don't think those conventional uses are the reason these antenna are so large. These insects don't have to hunt for their food as grass seeds aren't hard to find. Because the antenna are so rigid and over-sized they must make navigating among the grass stems a pain. Perhaps the antenna have more in common with deer antlers than the superficial similarity the name implies.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Discovering Spittlebugs

The reason why I blog about this mundane bit of roadside greenery that most people pass by at 100km an hour, is because it pushes me to get out and learn something new. It is so easy to just walk along without noticing the living world around you. Today I decided it was high time I finally found out what causes those little globs of sticky foam that are commonly found on the stems of plants. It didn't take long to discover there was a squat little bug living inside the foam. In the picture to the right, what looks like a green bud poking out of the foam, is actually the tail end of the little creature responsible for all that sticky mess. This, I later learned, was a nymph of a spittlebug. They feed on the sap of the plant and produce this sticky foam with the excess fluids they pass. Predatory insects can't get at them inside this foam and they are left at relative peace to suck the sap from the plant.

To get a better picture of one of them I took a blade of grass and scooped off a bit of the foam from a nearby basswood. It turns out that this guy was a nymph from a different species and wasn't green like the first guy. According to the book: Spittlebugs of Canada (pdf), there are many different types of spittlebugs, each tending to specialize on specific host plants. So it isn't too surprising that neighbouring plants have different spittlebugs. As you can see on the right, the little guy wasn't too happy with being disturbed. I eventually put him back down on his basswood so that he can go back to his sedentary occupation of sucking sap and blowing bubbles.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Pretty Silvery Blue

This pretty Silvery Blue was hanging out in the 2011 naturalization area. The host plants for this species of butterfly are members of the pea family such as Bird's foot Trefoil and Purple Vetch. Bird's foot Trefoil does very well for the first couple of years after a lawn is left to go wild. It is now mostly absent from the 2009 naturalization area although there were great mats of it smothering out the competition in 2009 and 2010. In the 2011 naturalization area it is still doing very well.

Monarch Waystations

Last Thursday I went to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden for a guided tour. They are very interested in butterflies and have created a monarch waystation with milkweed for the caterpillars and wildflowers for the butterflies. I occasionally see Monarchs visiting the berm area, but they are very difficult to photograph in flight. The fellow in the picture to the right went past me 4 times before he stopped on the sumac long enough for me to snap this picture.

The 2009 naturalization area is very slowly becoming more attractive to Monarchs. Only a couple of patches of Milkweed, like the one above, are sprouting up in the 2009 square. Milkweed tends to come back year after year to the same location with multiple plants spreading out to form a clump. Since milkweed is quite common along the edges of the 1995 forest, I expect Milkweed has still not had enough time to get fully established in the 2009 naturalization area. Other staples of old fields and abandoned lots, such as Asters, Goldenrod, Mullein, Curly Dock, Canada Thistle and Queen Anne's Lace, are also slowly invading the 2009 naturalization area in what is now the 4th year without mowing. However, the variety of plants is still quite limited; some common species such as wild parsnip and raspberry are still absent. I looked over some of the milkweeds on the off chance that there was a caterpillar on one of them. Of course I didn't find any, but I did find another interesting bug. On the leaf of the milkweed above is a Roesel's Katydid, another introduced species from Europe that is spreading across eastern Canada and the Northeastern States.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Curious Jumping Spider

This little Jumping Spider was initially quite camera shy. It hid from the camera; at first it backed away from the camera keeping the elderberry stem between it and the camera; then it backed up into the whorl of small leaves at the top of the stem. I continued to take pictures of it and after a while it decided to come out and investigate what this strange animal with the very large eye was.

Perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing the little spider too much, but I can't shake the impression that the little guy was curious about the camera and came out to take a better look. With those two big eyes it is so much easier to empathize with Jumping Spiders than it is with other spiders and bugs.