Monday Miscellany

autumn colour

Autumn is upon us here in the far north. Although most of the trees still retain their green colour, a few are beginning to shift to shades of red or yellow. And a very odd few have already made the change. I spotted this strikingly red tree not far from the road along the route I take to pick up my CSA produce every other week. It’s a little hard to see in the photo, but it’s growing alongside a little creek. I’ve noticed that trees with their roots in water tend to change sooner than those on dry land, and I’m not sure why that would be. Are the trees more stressed, since they get less oxygen and/or nutrients to their roots? Does the water make their roots colder? I suspect I could probably turn up the answer with some digging around on the net, but I’m running out of time today – heading out to return to the Big City for a couple of days. The purpose of the trip is for a doctor’s appointment with my specialist in Toronto, but I’m taking advantage of the trip back to visit with some friends, as well. I’d hoped to schedule something to go up tomorrow (The Moth and Me is due up!) but don’t think I’ll be able to get to it till Wednesday. But look for The MaM here on Wednesday!


A common late-summer flower is Butter-and-eggs, Linaria vulgaris, an introduced species that lines our roadsides and other disturbed places. The meadows here have a fair bit of it; I think these fields were cleared at some point in the last 50 years, and so are a fairly recent disturbance, as these things go. Fortunately, the plants seem to be well-visited by pollinators, suggesting that they do produce a lot of food for our local insects. This one is a bumblebee if undetermined species. It’s probably a Common Eastern Bumblebee Bombus impatiens, but don’t know if I could say for sure just from this photo.

Notice that the Butter-and-eggs work a bit like snapdragons, with a lower “lip” that the bumblebee pulls down when it lands, opening up the flower so it can get inside. Presumably this prevents smaller pollinators from getting in. The bumblebee’s head and back are covered with huge mounds of pollen, deposited there by the flowers, which it will in turn carry to other flowers. Smaller insects wouldn’t be large enough to collect and transfer the pollen.

My favourite part of this photo, though, is the bee’s long red tongue. Also, its right foreleg, which you can see waving about in the air by its head like another antenna. When the bee exited the flower, each time it would wipe the pollen from its eyes with the bristles on its foreleg.

Cocoon cap

I found this secured to a branch in our cedar hedge. It’s the cap to a lepidopteran cocoon, though the inhabitant has long since left. I don’t know what species of caterpillar built it – it’s old and bleached and papery, leaving no clues that would help with identification. The rest of the cocoon would have been split open when the moth or butterfly emerged, and is long since gone, leaving just this little bit, resembling an acorn cap, hanging from the cedar branch.

Leafroller (caterpillar) home and frass

I noticed a few of these rolled-up leaves in our grapevines when I was checking on the status of the grapes (still mostly green – I’m looking forward to being able to make pie with them in a month or so). Looking down the tube you can see that it’s been secured by many silk threads. These are the work of leafroller moth caterpillars. You’ll find rolled leaves like this not only on grapevine but also on other species of trees and shrubs. There are also leaf-folders, which just fold the leaf once instead of rolling it into a tube. I was hoping to find the caterpillar still inside, but when I unrolled the tube the owner had already left. All that remained was lots and lots of frass (caterpillar poop).

Argiope sp with prey

In a Monday Miscellany from a couple of weeks ago I shared an image of a vacant Argiope web with its characteristic zig-zag. I’ve been seeing more and more webs with their owners present lately. This one is a Black-and-Yellow Argiope, Argiope aurantia. Most of the time the webs they’re sitting in are empty, but this lucky spider had caught not one, but two grasshoppers in its snare. The grasshoppers looked like they had once possibly been Red-legged Grasshoppers, but they were wrapped up and it was difficult to discern any field marks. Most spiders would be too small to handle these large grasshoppers, and it’s possible that if a Red-legged hopped toward the web of a smaller orb-weaver it might pass right through. Argiopes have the heft and size to entangle and consume large prey such as this.


Our landlady, the house’s previous resident, planted a row of sunflowers down by our vegetable garden back in the spring. They grew very well over the summer and are just beginning to bloom. Sunflowers are such cheerful flowers, with their bright yellow faces held high to the sun. These ones are probably eight feet tall, towering over me. We’ll leave them where they are and allow the seeds to mature, and in the late fall and winter the Blue Jays and chickadees will enjoy hanging from the nodding flower heads to pick out the seeds.

Opisthocomus hoazin (Hoatzin)
Opisthocomus hoazin (Hoatzin) by Arthur Chapman

And finally, to wrap up this week’s edition, something a little different. I have signed up for a slot with Kolibri Expedition’s trip to Manu, Peru. My particular departure is set for November 13, 2010. Although there are a number of other bloggers also signed up to go, I’m hoping to entice some of my readers to come join me on this fabulous trip! It’d be a great way to escape the dreary November weather, and you’ll still be back in time for the American Thanksgiving. You can read more about the details and itinerary here.

In the meantime, I thought I would end my miscellany posts by choosing a species that will likely be seen on the trip and sharing a bit about it. Needless to say, because I haven’t been to Peru the photos will not be my own – but they will all be ones labeled for Creative Commons use. The photos will click through to the original source.

This first week I selected Hoatzin. This might be my number one desired species for the whole trip. They are just such cool birds. Considered by many scientists to be the “missing link” between the prehistoric Archaeopteryx, young Hoatzin bear claws on their “wrists” that they use for clambering about in the trees. Even adults do more clambering than flying, partly because their flight muscles are reduced in order to accommodate a larger stomach. Their stomach, in turn, needs to be larger because of the birds’ diet. They feed primarily on leaves, with only small amounts of fruit, flowers or insects. The leaves are broken down in an oversized crop using bacterial fermentation, much like cows and other ruminants do. However, unlike cows, the Hoatzin only has one stomach. Because of the bacterial digestion, the birds apparently have a rather manure-y smell, leading to the local name of Stinkbird. They can be fairly tame, for a wild bird, perhaps because their smell has discouraged much predation from humans.


Monday Miscellany


Isn’t this a lovely photo? I found these two butterflies clinging to a blade of grass out in our lawn the other day when I took my book outside to read in the sun for a bit. Naturally, I hadn’t brought my camera – I was going to be reading, not looking at wildlife. They seemed to be staying put, so I decided to run inside and grab it. I believe these are Clouded Sulphurs (Colias philodice), although they could possibly be the closely related and nearly identical Orange Sulphur (C. eurytheme) – they didn’t open their wings for me. I think the amount of pink edging makes them Clouded, though. Their larval foodplants are white clover and alfalfa – making our lawn a perfect place for them!


This moth was found in our garden one afternoon, flitting between these white flowers. I think they’re leeks, or some other oniony plant closely related to chives (they smell very chivey when crushed). I believe the moth is a Bronzed Cutworm, Nephelodes minians, a reasonably common species that would be starting to fly around now. We tend to think of moths as being nocturnal, but even some species that are primarily encountered at night (at lights) can often be found at flowers during the daytime. These leeks (or whatever) appear to be a favourite; I also saw a looper moth at them this week.


Dan brought me this guy one evening, wondering if it was a giant queen ant. It sure looks like one, with that long, fat abdomen. However, it’s actually a blister beetle in the genus Meloe. I found one last fall and wrote about it here. The one I found last year was a female, with a huuuuge abdomen and straight antennae. This individual has a more moderately-sized abdomen, and its antennae have U-shaped hooks halfway up their length. These hooks are used to grasp the female while mating. Blister beetles have some incredible life-history facts, including the ability that gives them their common name, and climbing stalks of grass to hitchhike rides on passing bees (visit last year’s post to find out why).


I mentioned in last week’s Miscellany that there were some bird-seed-plants growing underneath our feeder. A few days later, Dan happened to notice that there are a couple also growing in the feeder. This one is a baby sunflower. It won’t make it to any size before the frost arrives in a month or so, but it’s an extremely valiant effort.


I posted a little while ago about the delicious fresh produce we’ve been getting with our pick-ups from our local Community Shared Agriculture farm. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one of the colourful dishes that we had this week. It’s stuffed squash – I’d made this once before, using patty-pan squash that we got in our basket, and enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d do it again, even though we lacked the patty-pans this week. I used acorn squash rings instead, and it worked out fairly well. The filling includes fresh peppers, green onions, corn and tomatoes, mixed with local eggs, cheese and chicken and baked in the oven for half an hour. Mm-mm…. this was probably my favourite dish of all the ones I’ve made with our CSA produce this summer. And I love the colours. It’s too bad this photo has a yellow cast because of the incandescent lighting.


Finally, any gardeners out there? My Love-lies-bleeding ended up growing very stumpy this year – the plants on the right of this photo are only about 6 inches high. Mid-summer it looked like it was dying and done for the year. I didn’t remove it because I tend not to pull things out till the spring. Then a few weeks later I noticed the plant had perked up, started growing again like crazy (horizontally rather than vertically, strangely) and re-bloomed (many short little droopy flower tails growing from the forks of the branches rather than the big long ones at the top of a tall plant). At about the same time, I noticed these similar-looking plants coming up beside it. They had reddish bases to the stems like the L-L-b does. Could it be possible the plant self-seeded when the original flowers had finished, a month ago?

That’s all for this week! A short post because I’m trying to beat our internet, which has been habitually cutting out on us around 11pm every night. Our ISP doesn’t know what the problem is, and can’t help us troubleshoot unless it’s actually doing it. We’ve so far been too lazy to call Tech Support at midnight.

Monday Miscellany

Banded Tussock Moth caterpillar

I have a whole bunch of photos that I want to post for miscellany today, about a dozen of them. However, our internet has been rather flaky since last night. In and out and on and off and I never know if I’m going to have a prolonged stretch of connectivity. It’s also been cutting out nearly every night in the evening, which is particularly annoying since that’s when I typically do my blogging. I decided I’d cut my miscellany post in half, and do half today and half tomorrow, the better to maximize my chances of actually getting this up before the connection drops.

Today’s header photo is of a caterpillar I found hanging out on an oak leaf earlier this week. These sorts of fuzzy caterpillars, with the long tufts sticking out from the head and tail ends, are tussock moth caterpillars. This one is a Banded Tussock Moth. They’re not uncommon, with the adults being fairly regular at lights in the late spring and early summer, and are widespread, found across much of the continent east of the Rockies. Caterpillars are pretty generalistic feeders, with the only major deciduous group I didn’t see in the list being maples.

Cladonia sp., cup lichen

On the 30 acres that’s attached to the house there isn’t a whole lot of woods – most of the woods are on the part of the property two lots down the road. Three-quarters of our immediate land is meadow, however at the very back of the acreage is a small patch of moist woodland, predominantly cedar. A whole different community of plants and animals is found there. For instance, while moss and lichen is fairly uncommon in the meadow areas, there’s lots of it in the damp woods. I found this patch of cup lichen and mosses straddling a downed tree trunk there. The lichens, tall and upright, most likely belong to the genus Cladonia, although the particular species is harder to determine. The Cladonia include reindeer lichen, one of the primary food items of reindeer in the arctic tundra, and British Soldier lichens, which I’d found growing at my parents’ new house last year. I’ve actually noticed a few of them here this summer, too, though just small ones.


Also in the woods were these plants, whose identity remains a mystery to me. They were, naturally, in the middle of a soggy wet bit and I was in my sneakers, so I couldn’t position myself very well to get a good photo. They reminded me of gentians, and could possibly be Pale Gentians, Gentiana alba. Or, they could possibly not be. Whatever they are, they’re not in either of my wildflower guides. The only gentians I’ve encountered before happened to be Closed Gentians, Gentiana andrewsii, in the moist bits of the forests on my parents’ new property – a similar habitat.

Argiope web

I nearly walked through this web, which was built between a couple of stalks of grass, bisecting the trail I follow. The web belongs to an Argiope spider, most likely Black-and-yellow Argiope, A. aurantia. Argiopes built a zig-zag pattern into the middle of their web. The extra silk is called a stabilimentum, and its purpose is debated – it might be for camouflaging the spider as they sit on the web, maybe it somehow attracts insect prey, possibly it serves a strengthening purpose, or it might even be to make the web more visible to birds, who might otherwise fly through and destroy all the spider’s hard work. These structures are only found on the webs of diurnal spiders. I didn’t spot the owner of this web, which was too bad – they’re very striking spiders, and big, with bodies sometimes as large as your thumbnail.

Northern Walkingstick

Dan found this guy hanging out near our porch light a couple of nights ago. This is the second walkingstick I’ve seen in a year (the other one being this individual at our previous house), which is a lot compared to the none I’d seen in the many years previous. Like last year’s bug, this one is an adult, as told by the brown body and green legs – nymphs are similar in shape, but smaller and all green. The funny thing about this guy is that walkingsticks are traditionally associated with forest habitat, and while there’s forest nearby, and a scattering of trees around it, the house is basically in the middle of a meadow. Considering that these insects are wingless, he had quite a ways to trudge from the forest edge. Check out the link to last year’s stick for more info on the group.

Cumulus congestus cloud

Finally (for today), Dan took this photo of clouds at sunset the other night. We’ve had some nice sunsets here, since the meadow faces northwest and we have a good vista of the sky in that direction. With all the rain we’ve had this summer, there are often clouds in the sky at sunset which illuminate in interesting ways. These tall, fluffy clouds are probably Cumulus congestus clouds, also called towering cumulus clouds. They’re created by unstable patches in the atmosphere, where strong updrafts rapidly drive water vapour vertically into tall columns. With sufficient atmospheric disturbance, these can turn into cumulonimbus storm clouds, but even without getting that far they often produce rain. Fortunately, we experienced none that night – it was a lovely, clear evening.

Monday Miscellany

American Copper

I haven’t done a Monday Miscellany in a little while, my schedule over the last month or so being a little disordered. I’m actually able not only to do a miscellany this week, but do it on the proper day (at least, it’s the proper day when I’m writing this; by the time most readers will see it, it will be Tuesday, but hey. I do my best.).

Today’s header image is of an American Copper, Lycaena phlaeas. With such extensive meadow habitat at our new home, I’ve been seeing quite a few species of butterfly that I hadn’t encountered before; this is one of them. It’s actually not an uncommon species, I just haven’t spent enough time in appropriate habitats. It’s an interesting species in that it’s got two very distinct populations, separated from each other by great distance. The eastern population ranges through much of the northeast from Nova Scotia to Missouri. The northwestern population is found mainly through the arctic, from Baffin Island to Alaska, and south through the Rocky Mountains as far as Wyoming. A few disjointed populations are also found in other alpine areas. It has been hypothesized that the eastern population was actually introduced, and only the northwestern population is native.

Monarch caterpillar

Here’s something else I’d never seen: a Monarch caterpillar. I’m not sure why these guys have eluded me, as there has always been milkweed around the areas I’ve frequented. When we moved in and saw the expanse of milkweed by the house, I figured it would be a Monarch butterfly haven. I expected to see dozens of Monarch caterpillars chowing down on the plants. I was therefore surprised to see very few adult butterflies, and no caterpillars at all, despite dedicated regular checks of the meadow. Dan located this one right at the edge of the pack as he was chaperoning Olly during the cat’s daily outdoor walk (which the cat has come to demand rather vociferously). He was thoughtful enough to come get me. The caterpillar was gone when I looked for him the next day.

Gray Treefrog

The rainy, cool weather that we had for all of June and July now seems to be a thing of the past. The last couple of weeks have been hot and humid. We have no air conditioning in the house, so to try to combat the heat of the afternoon we open all the windows wide at night and close them again when we get up in the morning. As I was opening the windows one evening, I discovered this little guy clinging to the outside of the window. It’s a Gray Treefrog, although you can’t see much of his upperside. The yellow of the inner thighs is diagnostic of this species, as are the thick toe-pads that he’s using to cling to the window. I’m not sure why he was on the window, except perhaps to eat the insects that were drawn to the light. I turned the lights off when I went to bed; he was gone in the morning when I got up.

Weathered Black-eyed Susans

We’ve had Black-eyed Susans blooming all summer in our meadows. It’s funny that they’re so common here in eastern Ontario, where they were relatively scarce where I grew up in the Toronto area. I’ve enjoyed admiring them each time I go for a walk, and made an effort to capture them in the panorama I used in the new header image for the blog. This week I’ve noticed some are starting to fade. What interested me about this observation was the fact that the outer portion of the petals seemed to go first. Many flowers, including Black-eyed Susans, appear differently under UV light, and through eyes that can detect UV rays, such as those of insects. Most of the time the UV patterns aren’t obvious to our non-UV-detecting eyes. However, on these fading flowers you can see where the two areas of different UV reflectance are, with the central circle mostly intact, but the outer one well worn. Check out this photo over at Flickr for an example of how bees see Black-eyed Susans – the petals are actually bi-tone.

Lobelia, Cardinal Flower

Back in the spring I bought myself a Cardinal Flower for my garden with a birthday gift certificate. They’re a native species usually associated with wet or damp areas. We had seen the occasional Cardinal Flower along the lakeshore near our previous house, and I’d become quite enamoured with them, so I snatched one up when I happened across them in a garden centre. I usually browse through the pots until I find one with multiple stems, if possible; the one I bought had four. I wasn’t expecting it to bloom this year, but to my surprise all four stems put up inflorescences. I guess all the rain we’ve had has really appealed to them. Three of the four stems were the gorgeous bright red that I had specifically bought them for, but when the fourth set of inflorescences began to open I was delighted to find that they were pinkish-white. Some research on the web suggests this is an uncommon, though not unusual, colour form. One website I found was selling the white form for twice the price of the usual red. Another website commented, with regards to the common name, “Flowers are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, but not cardinals.” The “Cardinal” in the name, of course, refers to the colour, not the species it attracts.

Helleborine orchid, Epipactis helleborine

Alongside our driveway I have noticed a few of these plants. They grow with several broad leaves sprouting from the stem at the base, and a tall spike with small flowers up its entire length. I knew it was an orchid, but not what species; poking around online it appears it’s Helleborine, Epipactis helleborine. When we think orchid we tend to think of the flashy big-flowered things you can buy in pots in the grocery store. If we think of native orchids out in our woods, we usually think of ladyslippers. In actuality, though, there are dozens of native orchid species in North America. Ontario alone has more than 50 species of orchid growing wild. Many of them have smaller flowers and are less showy than their larger cousins the ladyslippers, but are nonetheless delightful. Helleborine is a non-native orchid. Its genus, Epipactis, is originally native to Europe, with no representatives native to North America. The first Helleborine was found in New York in 1879, likely spread from a parent plant planted outdoors somewhere some years earlier.

Picnic beetles

While visiting my parents this weekend, my mom commented that she’d observed some black beetles on a few of her daylily plants. When I investigated the plants myself I discovered that not only were there beetles on her daylilies, but the dead flower heads were absolutely crawling with them. The collapsed petals were so filled with the beetles that they were physically moving. I had seen these beetles before, once: while camping at a state park in Minnesota. I had sat down to eat my lunch (a sandwich from Subway) at a picnic table, and was very rapidly assaulted by a barrage of little black beetles wanting to get in on the action. I ate quickly. The beetles are, appropriately, called “picnic beetles”, and belong to the genus Glischrochilus. They’re attracted to sap and decaying fruit. I presume these flowers would fall in the latter category; with the temperatures so high, and the sun beating down on them, the dead flowers smelled strongly of fermentation.

Beetles on goldenrod

These final beetles were found on some goldenrod in our meadows. I didn’t have to look hard to find them, though – both of these species appear to be particularly abundant right now. The orange ones are Pennsylvania Leatherwing, Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus, found commonly on goldenrod throughout the east. The members of this genus are all important in pollination and biological pest control, as many will eat aphids and other insects.

The black one is Black Blister Beetle (say that five times fast!), Epicauta pennsylvanica. It’s also frequently encountered on goldenrod in the autumn in eastern North America. Like all blister beetles, they exude chemicals that can burn and blister the skin. Apparently some species of Epicauta feed on grasses and crops as adults, and if baled with hay have been known to actually kill horses that ingest them.

Monday Miscellany

Rock Ridge

I never did get around to posting any photos from our most recent visit to Rock Ridge, with the exception of the unboring beetles. That’s not for lack of any, however. I’ll probably recycle some of last visit’s photos into the post on our next visit (tentatively scheduled for Thursday, weather permitting). However, I’ll also post a couple here. This first one is a posed self-portrait (about the only sort of photo I get of myself, since I’m usually the one holding the camera) looking out over the main lake at Rock Ridge about an hour after sunrise. I’m not aware of a name for the lake, and in fact many of the lakes in the park are nameless, or at least lack any sort of official designation. The same was true of Hemlock Lake over at the first MAPS site (we gave the lake that name). Given that this site is Rock Ridge, perhaps I should start calling it Rock Lake? We’ll have to ponder that on the next visit…

Dawn on Big Clear Lake

This photo was taken on Big Clear Lake, one of the larger “perimeter lakes” that border the edge of the park. True to its name, the lake is both big and clear. On sunny days it’s easy to see the bottom even ten feet down. The clear waters imply it’s an oligotrophic lake – “oligo” meaning few, and “trophic” referring to the food chain. There’s not a lot of nutrients in this lake, possibly as a result of a granite bottom, and so there isn’t a lot of algae growing in the water column. Lack of algae means lack of plankton, lack of plankton means lack of aquatic insects, and all the way up. That’s not to say that there’s no life in the lake, just that compared to lakes with lots of nutrients this one is relatively depauperate.

Beaver jawbone

I came across this beaver jawbone at the site, nestled in a bed of pine needles. The yellow teeth are characteristic of rodents, and their relative length and the overall size of the bone identifies it as a beaver. Beavers have sharp, strong teeth that grow through their entire lives. They need to be constantly chewing on trees and branches in order to keep them worn down. If they stopped chewing, the teeth would eventually grow into the roof of their mouth and make it impossible for the animal to eat. It’s possible that this bone was the kill of one of the wolf/coyote packs in the park, or it may simply have been a beaver that died of natural causes.

Olympia Marble caterpillars

These Olympia Marble caterpillars were found crawling about the tip of a stem of woodland phlox that had gone to seed. The long, thin projection in the foreground, and the one that the little caterpillar is on, are both seed pods. I’m not sure if they were actually eating the seed pods or stem, or if they were there looking for a place to pupate; probably the latter, as the hostplant for the species is given as rockcress, not phlox. I mentioned the adults in another post a few weeks ago, found in similar habitat.


As we were leaving the site we noticed a couple of fish in the short, shallow creek that joins Big Clear Lake with “Rock Lake”. They were close enough, and the water clear enough, to get a passable photo. This one is a Pumpkinseed, identifiable both by the red crescent at the back of the black “ear flap”, and the red and blue striping on the cheek. They look considerably different when out of the water, however, the blue fins don’t really show up and the fish’s body looks green, not brownish red. They’re a common species that I’ve encountered in all of the lakes of the area, or at least those that I’ve looked in.

Fishfly, Nigronia sp.

And a few steps further up the path (okay, so this post ended up being mostly about unposted photos from Rock Ridge), this fishfly flew in front of me and landed on the underside of this branch, where he obligingly stayed put so I could photograph him. I’ve talked about fishflies before, but the ones I’d seen were in the other fishfly genus, Chauliodes. This one is in the genus Nigronia, which have white patches on their wings, and is probably N. serricornis.

Moving crew

We’re starting to pack up the house in preparation for our move, now only a week away. Merlin and Oliver try to help, though I’m not sure they really lend much to the operation. There’s just something about an empty box that a cat can’t resist. We’ll have lots of packing to do, more than the last time we moved – at the time, back in Toronto, half my stuff was already boxed and in storage, which made it a bit quicker. We’re renting a truck and hopefully will be able to do it all in one day, if we’re prepared ahead of time.


And finally, this is a screenshot taken of the front page of the Nature Blog Network toplist. For the first time since I signed up, I’ve made the front page! I’m listed right behind one of my favourite blogs, too. I post this not to gloat, but because I’m proud to see something do so well that I’ve put so much time and effort and devotion into over the last year and a half. Of course, ultimately it’s my readers, all of you folks, that I really have to thank. Without you, I would still just be blogging away to myself. I know that I often fall behind on comments in trying to keep juggling all the balls of my life, but know that I read them all and I really appreciate hearing from everyone! And I do hope to eventually reply to them all (if I get organized, maybe I’ll even start keeping on top of it…).