Monday Miscellany

Green-margined Tiger Beetle, Cicindela limbalis

It’s that time of year again: the time of year where my quantity of photos taken begins to exceed the quantity of photos I can work onto the blog. I take my camera with me virtually everywhere: every time I go out on a walk with Raven down the road, or a hike with Dan out in the park, or out to visit friends or family. I even take my camera when I go grocery shopping in town, just in case I should happen to encounter something along the way (this was prompted by encountering a young snapping turtle in the middle of the road last summer, so I stopped the car to get out to help it across, and I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera). If there’s anything that catches my eye or even slightly piques my interest, I take a picture. Many of these, the odds and ends that I can’t work into a full-length post very easily, languish in my computer’s annals. During the winter the problem isn’t pronounced, but as soon as spring starts to break, my backlog of photos really begins to build, and I just can’t keep up with all the subjects I take photos of.

Last year I tried addressing this through Today at Kingsford. I felt it was mildly successful, but ultimately still left lots unshared. This year I decided a better way to approach it would be to emulate the day-labeled themes such as “Skywatch Friday” or “Wordless Wednesday”, and start a regular series called Monday Miscellany. Although in my head Saturday is the most logical day for a week-end round-up, “Saturday Miscellany” just didn’t have the same sort of appealing alliteration. So Monday it is.

This week’s header image is of a Green-margined Tiger Beetle, Cicindela limbalis. At least, I think that’s who it is; tiger beetles tend to be somewhat similar in their markings and general colours, and I’m certainly no expert, unlike fellow blogger Ted of Beetles in the Bush. It doesn’t help that my primary reference for all things six-legged, the Kaufman guide to Insects, only covers a subset of the more common tigers. So I turned to a book that I haven’t used a whole lot recently, largely due to its tome-like size: Stephen Marshall’s Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity. This is a great book, with a much greater breadth of diversity than can be offered in the smaller Kaufman guide (Marshall’s book is hardly a “field” guide, but makes a great coffee-table reference). I rarely fail to find what I’m looking for in there.

In this case, Marshall notes, “The Green-margined Tiger Beetle lives on clay soils across Canada and the northeastern states.”, my number one online reference for all things six-legged, adds that the habitat is “usually steep, moist bare clay soil, including… dirt roads”. They’re out in the spring and then again in the fall. I spotted it moving along our dirt road one warm afternoon last week as I was returning with Raven. She was very good as I asked her to sit-stay while I photographed the critter. The beetle was also very good, though I doubt it paid any attention to my command to sit-stay. Prior to this I had only ever seen Six-spotted Tiger Beetles (C. sexguttata), so I was rather excited to discover this one.

Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major

Insects figure heavy in this post. I’ve been seeing quite a few about recently, particularly late last week on perhaps the most gorgeous afternoons we’ve had so far this spring. This one is a bee fly, probably Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major. This is a widespread species that flies in early spring ( says they’re most common in April), usually found near wooded areas, in sunny clearings either sunning themselves or visiting spring wildflowers. Last spring I noted one visiting the forget-me-nots in my parents’ garden. I saw four in various spots that day last week; this one was at the side of the road.


Photo number three is an unidentified weevil. I think weevils are cool, with their long snouty appearances. Although weevils are actually a type of beetle, they are generally thought of as separate organisms. Rarely any larger than a quarter of an inch, weevils are small beetles and this guy was as well. I was sitting in the leaves at the edge of a forest clearing, hoping for a bee fly like the guy in #2 (but not actually that individual) to come land near me, and I noticed this guy crawling through the litter and then up a grass stem where he helpfully sat and wiggled his antennae for a few moments while I took a photo.

Giant Water Bugs

On the evening that followed that beautiful day, I set up my moth sheet with great anticipation of what might arrive. I was not disappointed; I had a few hundred moths come in, of upwards of three dozen species. But they weren’t the only things to come to the sheet. There were also small beetles, a couple of ichneumonid wasps, and these guys, Giant Water Bugs, Lethocerus americanus. I encountered them for the first time last spring, at my parents’ place. They are the creepiest bugs, huge, some three inches long, with giant forearms that look fearsome. They are in fact capable of giving a good nip, and I haven’t tried handling them. They’re capable of flying, although they’re a bit lumbering as befits something of their size, and as I was standing out by the sheet it was hard not to get a little anxious with these huge bugs buzzing by me. There must have been at least 20 that arrived, drawn in by the blacklight. The leaf litter was alive with them.

Daffodil with wasp

At the abandoned property that I visit from time to time, some years ago the owner must have planted some spring bulbs, looking forward to a time when they would be moved in to the completed house and would have a full garden. The house was never completed, the owners never moved in, but the bulbs remain. There were crocuses, tulips, and a couple of patches of mini daffodils, all of which have grown over the years into small clumps. Two daffodils were blooming when I was there last, and were being visited by a few little insects, including this small bee (I think).


Speaking of yellow flowers, our roadside, or at least portions of it, are awash in yellow Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. These are one of the earliest spring flowers, and at least for the past few years, have been the first one I see in the spring. They’re such cheerful flowers, bright and sunny, it’s too bad they’re non-native.

Raven with branch

As Raven has gotten older, she’s taken a greater interest in sticks. She never eats them, but she likes to carefully and methodically shred them to bits. No bit of wood is too small for consideration. And few sticks, it seems, are too big.


Sunshine in a bed of leaves


The first wildflower I see every spring is the above, Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. Even before the Bloodroot starts unfurling, or the trilliums open up, there’s the bright yellow flower heads of the Coltsfoot, pushing up between the brown leaves of last autumn. Like many of our wildflowers, Coltsfoot isn’t native to North America. It’s funny, all the wildflowers that I think of when I think of a summer meadow, things like Queen Anne’s Lace, or Butter-and-eggs, Viper’s Bugloss, or Chicory – they’re all introduced from Eurasia. Which makes you wonder what inhabited the meadows in the summer before they got here. Coltsfoot was introduced to Canada in the 1920s, and is now found in most provinces.

The flowers superficially resemble dandelions, and can be mistaken for them. Like dandelions, they belong to the aster family. Asters can be identified by having a group of central flowers that form a “capitulum”. In a plant like the coneflower, the capitulum can be tall and pronounced. In the daisy, it’s flat, or slightly domed. The flowers can by tiny, looking to the naked eye like a stippled but solid surface, or they can be pronounced, giving the coneflower its spikey appearance, but in any case they’re always present. The “petals” surrounding the capitulum are actually bracts, modified leaves that are frequently brightly coloured to present the appearance of a large flower head, widening the surface area that attracts pollinators. If you remove all the little tiny bracts from the coltsfoot, there’s not a lot of flower left to attract insects.


Coltsfoot is usually found growing in large patches. This is because the plant grows and spreads from rhizomes, a “root” network (actually a type of horizontal stem) that has the ability to send up new shoots at a distance from the parent plant. All of the flowers in the above photo likely belong to the same plant.

It has the ability to grow in poor-quality soils, such as roadsides and waste places, and probably explains why it does so well out at TTPBRS relative to other flowers, as the primary soil substrate there is sand. It can often be found growing in gravel pits, and frequently rhizomes that are carried away with a load of gravel will start up a new plant where the stone is deposited, aiding in the species’ dispersion. Tilling can have the same effect in agricultural fields.

The plant does also produce seeds, although seed production is a less important form of reproduction. The seed heads of the plant resemble those of a spent dandelion, white and fluffy. However, Coltsfoot will begin to go to seed before dandelion is really beginning to bloom.


Coltsfoot puts up flowers first thing, even before it grows any foliage. Food, in the form of starches, is stored in the rhizomes over the summer, allowing the flowers to form in the following spring before the plant begins photosynthesizing. A potato is an example of a starchy storage system used by the plant for future growth (in the potato’s case the tuber is from a stolon, not a rhizome, but same basic purpose). Usually the plant’s leaves only begin to appear after the flower has matured and set seed.

The name “Coltsfoot” is taken from the shape of the mature leaves, which resemble the cross-section of the hoof of a colt (young male horse, though they have the same foot-shape as a female horse or an adult horse; indeed, among other names for the plant are Foal’s Foot and Horse’s Foot).


Historically, Coltsfoot has been used for medicinal purposes as a cough suppressant. The plant would be dried and crushed, and then smoked to relieve asthma and various coughs. The genus name, “Tussilago”, even means “cough suppressant”, and another common name it has is “Coughwart”. Crushed flowers were also supposed to cure skin conditions.

Being one of the earliest flowers in the spring, it’s especially important to early-flying insects. In Europe it’s the larval foodplant for a few moth species, but I didn’t see any records of it being commonly used by North American species. However, honeybees (incidentally also a Eurasian species) are a common visitor.

At TTPBRS, the flowers bloom at the side of one of the primary trails, in an area of young cottonwoods. As I’m doing the rounds in the morning, early in the season, I look for the flowers. They close up at night, so take a few hours in the morning to become obvious again – a person walking through just after dawn might miss them, while someone coming by at noon would find a wide scattering of bright flowers. Its status as an introduced species notwithstanding, I’m always happy to see them blooming, the first colour to come to the post-winter landscape.