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

Recent garden and forest pictures

Birds

Here is a junco eating weed seeds from my garden. The more it can get rid of, the better.

Junco eating weed seeds
Junco eating weed seeds

These mourning doves are looking quite peaceful.  They are much less so with other birds, chasing most of them away (except, of course, hawks). They don’t seem that tough, but even blue jays retreat if a dove wants them to.

Mourning doves
Mourning doves
Mourning dove
Mourning dove

There is a pond about 200m from our house, which is almost overgrown now with cattails (bulrushes). It’s not on our land so I can’t do much to keep it clear. Eventually it will get filled in and we’ll have no more snapping turtles as my garden ponds are too small for them.

It is home in the summer to about 3 pairs of red-winged blackbirds.  Here is what’s left of one of their nests. They are built on cattail clumps well out into the water.

Blackbird nest
Blackbird nest

I also spotted a muskrat lodge while I was looking for the nests.

Muskrat lodge
Muskrat lodge

Which gives the segué into:

Mammals

Here is a red squirrel in the garden.

Red squirrel
Red squirrel

In our back field, on the other side of the cedar woods, there are piles of rocks from when the field was cleared. The field is rapidly filling in with red pine and there is a clump surrounding one of the rock piles. The squirrels have a nest in one of the pines and use one of the rocks for an al fresco dining-room table.

Squirrels nest in red pine
Squirrels’ nest in red pine
Squirrel dining table
Squirrel dining table

Cedar Forest

The back forest is about 80% Eastern Red Cedar which, as I’ve said before, is not botanically a cedar but a juniper. Here is the path down to the forest. You can just see my new bridge at the bottom.

Path to woods with snow
Path to woods with snow

From standing on the bridge, looking downstream, it was frozen over last week. It almost looks like it’s still flowing in the middle but the ripples were frozen too.

Pigeon River frozen
Pigeon River frozen

Looking upstream from the bridge are some interesting ice formations on the rocks.

Pigeon River starts to freeze over
Pigeon River starts to freeze over

But two days ago, we got a torrential rainstorm and +5ºC temperatures, which got rid of the ice. From the same vantage point, in both directions again:

River upstream from bridge
River upstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge
River downstream from bridge

The cedars are fast growing and resilient trees.  Like “real” cedar, their wood is rot-resistant. Because the forest is so dense, some trees don’t make it in their race for the light, so we are able to get wood for posts and the like without having to cut live trees. We’re not supposed to anyway because of the conservation rules, but we certainly wouldn’t cut them unless we needed to (e.g. to keep power lines clear) so I don’t bother asking permission.

Here’s one example of their resilience. One trunk grew straight through another. I’m not sure if it is two trunks of the same tree or if two seedlings sprouted very close together. Many of the trees have multiple trunks like this.

Self-penetrating cedar
Self-penetrating cedar

The next picture shows one that was struck by lightning a few years ago.  The blast blew a 5 cm (2″) wedge out of the tree from top to bottom, pieces of which landed 3 m (10′) from the tree. The tree recovered nicely, as have several others in the vicinity. It’s not hard to see that lighting strikes several times in almost the same place around here.

Cedar struck by lighting
Cedar struck by lighting

The soil here is very shallow and cedar roots are shallow in any case (no tap root) so they are very prone to blowing down. But as long a some of the root is still in contact with the soil, they just adjust to their new direction and keep growing upwards.

Cedar regrows
Cedar regrows

Miscellaneous

There aren’t many insects around at this time of year, but since the river keeps flowing, you can always scoop up a few rocks.  Here is a mayfly nymph, only about 7mm (3/8″) that will be emerging as a fly in the spring, if the trout don’t get it first. The tufts on its abdomen are gills, in constant motion. You can just see the curve of its jaws at the front.

Mayfly nymph
Mayfly nymph

I bought a yucca plant about 20 years ago.  It reproduced first through branches off its underground rhizome, which is over 1m down (4′) and about 5 cm (2″) thick. But then a few started showing up elsewhere, presumably from seeds carried by birds. It grows fine from seed in straight gravel. It is pretty hardy for a warm desert plant. Oddly enough, it usually survives the winter looking in great shape, only to show significant  damage with the last couple of frosts, presumably because it has removed the antifreeze from its sap in order to grow. Still, it recovers and provides some gorgeous, enormous flower spikes.

Yucca
Yucca

Pine seed bugs

Our house gets infested with these Western Pine Seed Bugs every fall. Well, would you like to stay outside all day in an Ontario winter? (Yes? You must be from Alberta).

Pine seed bug
Pine seed bug

They are harmless but if you scare them, they emit a stink. Not too bad, a bit like a bruised apple. Also, being a true bug, they have a sharp, pointy beak that they can stick in you. After all, if it can pierce a pine seed, it can pierce your skin. It is normally folded under the head and body. Sort of like a permanently-attached drinking straw with built-in bottle opener.
So if they land on something, like me, or food, I give them a flick of the finger so they are gone before they get time to get scared. Imagine if something the size of a tree trunk suddenly hit you from behind, hard enough to send you flying many body-lengths1. Well, these guys recover mid-air and manage to fly to safety, at least until I manage to catch them again.

I think that this one was a bit miffed because it opened its wings and refolding them several times after that harsh treatment so I took the opportunity to take a few pictures.  Of course, I couldn’t get the depth of focus and the shutter speed both right in the few seconds before it stopped doing that, so the best picture is the first one, that I actually took last, and it never did it again.

Pine seed bug. wings open
Pine seed bug. wings open

1. The lesson to be learned from any such “many body-lengths” etc. that you see here or in the papers is not that some small creatures like fleas have super-powers, but that scaling doesn’t work like that. In this case, mass is proportional to cube of size so at tiny size, the force and energy to accelerate them is proportionately very much less than it is for us, so not much harm done. OK, a bit more complicated than that,… exoskeleton,… but the point stands, no superpowers.

Scale insects: how can you move so slowly and be a pest?

I got a plant with only a few of these pests on it.  I picked them off by hand and thought nothing more of it.  I didn’t realize that they had tiny babies that I overlooked and that although they move extremely slowly, they reproduce at a high rate.

Scale insects
Scale insects

Coins for scale (pun intended); depending on where you are, Canadian 25¢ (same size as American), British £, 2€ and 50 Kč (Czech crowns) from my trips this year.

The leaf is a Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa) which has thick, leathery leaves.  I hadn’t noticed that it had got some of these insects on it, must have crawled from another plant I had nearby. This leaf was badly infested; there were just a few on the next leaf.

The females can’t fly, so it’s they only way they can get there.  Apparently, in the wild they can just get blown in the wind but I don’t think there is enough air current in the house.

Eventually, they can get in enough numbers that they can cause serious damage, so I’m going to have to watch this one closely. Normally, I pick off most, then use soapy water, but the adults have a waxy coat, so I mix in a bit of rubbing alcohol which should dissolve it. This plant is big for a house plant so I won’t be able to move it.

Here is a close-up. While preparing for this, I finally saw one move, just detectable under a 16× lens.  You can just see the six legs on the smaller ones.  Look how flat they are. The biggest one is about 1mm (1/16″).

Scale insects 2
Scale insects 2

I used side lighting on the next picture to give you some idea how little shadow they cast.

Scale insects 3
Scale insects 3

If you flip over one of the ones with a hard, waxy shell, you see they are stuffed full of eggs. It is hard to imagine how the actual insect could fit into the shell with all the eggs, or how what little body it had left could have laid all those eggs.  You can see how easy it is to miss the tiny first instars (stages of an insect’s growth) when they hatch from these eggs. Barely visible with naked eye, this is about as much magnification as I can squeeze out of my camera with macro lens and macro tubes combined.

Scale insect eggs
Scale insect eggs