Plants, insects and a spider

I’ll start with plants without insects and spiders, for those few readers who don’t like our arthropod neighbours.

The first is a mystery shot. Guess what it is and award yourself a prize if you get it right. Answer below.

Mystery shot
Mystery shot

Here is one of our two apple trees, a Macintosh. The Northern Spy, once again, had no apples at all, in spite of having had a few flowers. The crab apples were profuse as usual.

Macintosh apples
Macintosh apples

This is the first year we have had no blackberries. The drought has been dreadful. “Russian Giant” sunflowers, normally at least my height, are mostly around knee high.

No blackberries
No blackberries

Many of the native plants are more drought resistant, such as these tiny but prolific asters.

Native asters Ontario
Native asters Ontario

And here is the answer to the mystery photo. It was the centre of this Gaillardia (aka Blanket Flower, Indian Blanket or Ring of Fire).

Gaillardia aka Blanket Flower
Gaillardia aka Blanket Flower

Warning: from now on there is an arthropod in every picture, though of course, they are on plants.

First is an unidentified bug, on grass seeds. Although I’m not exactly sure what kind of plant bug it is, I know it is a true bug because you can see its beak tucked under its head and thorax. For those not familiar with insects, although we all tend to call all kinds of animals ‘bugs’, there is an order of insects that entomologists call ‘true bugs’, or in scientific naming ‘Hemiptera’. There are somewhere around 70,000 species of these and they all have a sucking tube for a mouth, which they stick in their prey and such the juices, be it plant (mostly) or animal.

Bug on grass seeds
Bug on grass seeds

Some entomologists are even pickier and reserve ‘bug’ for a sub-order, the ‘Heteroptera’, but that just bugs me. And just to confuse matters more, a few insects with sucking mouthparts are not related. For example, those nasty mosquitoes are actually flies, not bugs (order (Diptera)).

Here are a couple more true bugs. First, an adult milkweed bug, sitting on a milkweed seed pod. I don’t think you can see the beak (scientific name is ‘rostrum’) from this angle.

Small milkweed bug
Small milkweed bug

Bugs don’t go through a pupa stage, like caterpillars. Instead each moult gets it a bit closer in appearance to an adult. Here is a juvenile milkweed bug that has just started to develop wings, outlined in black, below.

Immature milkweed bug
Immature milkweed bug

Sticking with bugs, here are a couple more, a shield bug and a plant hopper.

Shield bug
Shield bug
Leaf hopper
Leaf hopper

Leaf hoppers are hard to photograph because they are tiny, so hard to get in focus, and they tend to, well, hop off, at no notice. They have good reason to be jittery, though. While I was watching this cute little jumping spider, four or five leaf hoppers landed nearby. The spider jumped at them before I realized they had landed but all of them were fast enough to escape with their lives.

Jumping spider
Jumping spider

I knew that jumping spiders caught their prey by jumping on them, rather than using webs. They have quite an impressive array of different kinds of eyes to help them with their hunting.  I did not know that they did use webs, but as a home. Here is the same spider in its nest. You can just see part of it towards the lower left.

Jumping spider nest
Jumping spider nest

This fierce-looking creature actually feeds off nectar. Its long tail is for laying eggs, which it does in June bug larvae (the white grubs you find in your lawn, that eat the roots). The wasp larvae are parasites that destroy the grubs from inside. This one is sitting on an oak leaf. I found half a dozen of these in a few minutes, quietly enjoying the sunshine.

Pelecinid Wasp
Pelecinid Wasp

Although it hops on leaves, this grasshopper is not closely related to the hoppers above, and is not a true bug. It has chewing mouth parts, not sucking.

Grasshopper
Grasshopper

And here is another member of the same ‘straight winged (Orthoptera)’ order, a cricket.

Snowy tree cricket
Snowy tree cricket

Next is an inch worm, so called because it moves by looping up its body to bring the back pseudo-legs up to the front true legs, thereby “measuring” its length as it goes. It is a caterpillar of the geometer moth. Of course, now we are all metric, it now 2.5 centimetres along, instead of inching.

Inchworm
Inchworm

Another carnivore, helping to keep down the aphid population.

Lacewing
Lacewing

And yet another. There have been many fewer dragonflies this year, because of the drought, which means many fewer mosquitoes for dinner. We also haven’t had swallows or other mosquito-eating birds.

Common darter
Common darter

Goldenrod season

I feel sorry for all the people who are allergic to goldenrod, but it’s in full flower today.
Here is some in our back yard

Goldenrod field
Goldenrod field

The local insects think the pollen is delicious.

Goldenrod pollen - honeybee
Goldenrod pollen – honeybee
Goldenrod pollen - bald faced hornet
Goldenrod pollen – bald faced hornet

I found this on the ground in the forest. Why is it not on the tree and why is it this strange colour? It’s months before fall, isn’t it?

Maple leaf - first fall
Maple leaf – first fall

Woodpecker and goldenrod galls

We have many, many goldenrod plants in this area – they are common everywhere, though when I was very young, my grandfather had an allotment and I remember that he had goldenrod growing around the shed.  One of my earliest memories.

Goldenrod are very susceptible to galls.  Almost every stem has at least one. These are made by the plant as a result of an insect sting.  The resulting gall provides food and shelter to the insect grub.  The insect is the goldenrod gall fly.

I noticed a downy woodpecker on the weed stems in my garden, where I usually see chickadees and juncos. Unusual, as woodpeckers aren’t big seed eaters.  Then I realized it was eating the gall fly larvae.  Once it had gone, I checked out the galls. Every single gall had a large hole in it, much bigger than the exit hole normally made by the fly, when it hatches out the next spring.  

Woodpecker on galls
Woodpecker on galls
Goldenrod Gall after woodpecker
Goldenrod Gall after woodpecker

Spring flowers and pollinators

Roses are red, violets are …. yellow?

Yellow Violets
Yellow Violets

Laurie is allergic to strawberries, but our property is covered with them

Wild strawberries
Wild strawberries

Our orchard trees were very prolific this year. This crab apple didn’t have much room left for any more blossom.

Crab apple
Crab apple

The eating apples were also the most prolific than they have ever been.

Orchard
Orchard

There were not as many pollinators as usual. Although the trees were buzzing in the mid-morning and I counted about 5 species of bees, by the time I got to taking pictures, there was just one bumble bee that wouldn’t stay still for long enough (a second or two) and this red admiral.

Red Admiral on crab apple
Red Admiral on crab apple

There were only a few hover flies as well, though this one seemed to find plenty to eat on the pussytoes that are taking over a few sections of lawn.

Hoverfly on pussytoes
Hoverfly on pussytoes

Apples, violets and a caterpillar

This caterpillar is too big to have grown this season. It must have overwintered.

Virginia ctenucha - Tiger Moth
Virginia ctenucha – Tiger Moth

Another spring wildflower out today. Our lawn is full of these. I have no idea why people would want to put “weed”killer on their lawns when you can have a carpet of violets if you leave it alone.

Violets
Violets

Our “orchard”, mostly crabapples, is going to be spectacular this year if the long range forecast holds and we don’t get a late, heavy frost. Almost every bud that opened has a cluster of flower buds inside so if they survive it will be one of the better years – it is usually from 20% to 80%, varying from year to year.

Crabapple buds
Crabapple buds

and pushing the luck even further, if we can keep the pests away, we should have lots of apples too. Last year was bad as we got very little fruit (in both senses, not many and tiny). This is a Macintosh.

Apple buds
Apple buds

Our sour cherry barely survived the winter before. I didn’t like to cut too much off until this year, to see if it survived at all. This winter was very harsh but no more damage. Still, I’ll have to cut off about 3/4 of the tree, which is 20 years old and had just started producing a lot of really nice fruit. The other big casualty of two hard winters is my beautiful corkscrew hazel, which had grown quite big but now has only one surviving branch and is smaller than when I bought it.