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

Fall Garden pictures – Wild Grapes

Wild grapes, some interesting features of composite flowers, and other miscellaneous garden flower pictures from this week.

I already put the last two on Facebook, but included here for those who don’t use those media.

We have wild grapes in fruit in the garden.  Like strawberries, these are a fruit where the wild ones, albeit much smaller than the domesticated, are even sweeter. Each fruit is about 7 mm diameter.

Wild grapes
Wild grapes

Now for a botany lesson – for those of you already familiar with it, you can just learn from my photography mistakes.

Flowers are, of course, the plants’ way of attracting pollinators, and they need to compete for attention with their neighbours. Some of them go for size:

Sunflowers
Sunflowers
Sunflower
Sunflower

In fact, the sunflower, like others of its family, are actually composite flowers, made up of many smaller flowers. When I was first learning botany, the family was called Compositae but now they have been renamed to Asteraceae after one branch of the family. In fact, the composites are possibly the largest family of flowering plants, rivalled by the orchids; it is hard to tell which family is bigger. Wikipedia can tell you more.

Look at this closeup.  On the far left are the bases of the large “petals” of the flower. Each one is a small flower of its own, called a ray floret.  The middle set are a different shape of floret, disk florets. It’s easiest to see from the ones on the left edge, where you can see a little crown of five petals.  Each of these flowers will form a sunflower seed.  By the way, can you see the little insect near the edge in the centre, almost perfectly camouflaged?

Sunflower close up
Sunflower close up

The sunflower and, to a lesser extent, the other daisy-like flowers have a single large disk of ray florets surrounded by the ray florets that make the composite flower look bigger. (Dandelions and others only have ray florets).

Other composites go one level further, they assemble a mass of composite flowers into a cluster.  An example is this Heath Aster.

Heath Aster
Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)

Packing even more, even smaller composite heads into a cluster is the goldenrod.

Goldenrod close up
Goldenrod close up

By looking even closer, it is easier to see that they are indeed composite. The one on the right hasn’t yet opened its disk florets so you can more easily see the rays with their own pollen-bearing stamens. The one on the left has opened some ray florets which almost hide the rays.

Goldenrod closer up
Goldenrod closer up

Of course, from flowers come seeds.  The next picture is a set of seeds from a true geranium. I like the neat way the seed pod opens up from the bottom, still carrying the seed.  Somehow, one has come loose but is still hanging on to its neighbour.  I shot this one into the sun so as to catch the light refracting from the hairs.

Geranium seed
Geranium seed

Finally, just because they are almost over, a picture of some garden phlox.  I wish the camera could capture the scent.

Phlox
Phlox

Although there are some red leaves on the small maple on the right, it is not a sugar maple but a sunset maple, so they are not dying leaves but the new ones that the sunset maple keeps opening most of the year. They open red, turn green and do turn back reddish as they die in the fall, but not as deeply coloured as the sugar maples.  (Unfortunately, a few of those are starting to turn).