on our walk

On Tuesday, my mother stopped by to visit, so we decided to go for a walk along the trails that lead through the back of the farm. The following are a few of the sights observed along the way. (Note: To view larger versions of the photos, just click on the thumbnails – and most of the larger photos also have a larger version as well).

Before we had even managed to leave the backyard, we spotted this Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) flitting erratically over the lawns, visiting both the flowerheads and leaves of the Queen Anne’s Lace plants. I managed to shoot this photo during a very brief pause when the butterfly rested for just a moment before continuing on with its egg-laying spree.

As we passed the masses of wild raspberry canes in the fencerow behind the barn, I stopped to check the leaves for insects. It’s a great spot to look around as the canes are always full of life. I immediately found this small caterpillar. I’ve seen this species on the raspberry leaves before. Although I’m not certain of the ID, it’s possible that this is an early instar of the Close-banded Yellowhorn caterpillar (Colocasia propinquilenea). Whatever, it’s an attractive little cat. The large version of the photo is worth a look.

Also found roving among the raspberry leaves was this Stinkbug (Pentatomidae) nymph. I’m not sure of the species or even the genus, but I know it’s a nymph by the lack of wings, and the curious pattern on the upper side of the abdomen. Most Stinkbug nymphs have these types of patterns — some are more colorful than others, but most have a little row of parallel lines. I can’t help thinking of the trigrams that are depicted in the I Ching: Book of Changes. It looks to me like this little fellow has a solid yang line on top, and two open ying lines below. If so, the trigram is the symbol for Mountain. Every time I look at these patterns and think of the I Ching, I think of another of my art teachers from high school, Milo, who used to leave some pennies and the I Ching book on his desk so that we could toss the coins and see what turned up whenever the mood struck to do so. Like another of my recently mentioned art teachers, he too had a profound influence on my work and how I see the world around me — and even how I think about life in general.

A little further along the fencerow, I spotted this adult Stinkbug wandering about on a Milkweed leaf. I don’t know for sure that it’s a predatory species, but I think perhaps it is as I’ve seen this species on the Milkweed quite a lot this summer. Again, I don’t know the ID, but they are a lovely colour and texture. It reminds me of an ancient bronze shield.

As you can see from its back, this is what a typical adult Stinkbug looks like. They have a wide metathorax at the front, then a conspicuous triangle-shaped section between the wings that is known as the scutellum. The wings are leathery at the front, and become membranous. They are neatly folded over the back. Another set of membranous wings lie beneath. I’ve actually photographed these with their wings open, but I’d have to do some looking for photos. Instead, I might just try to find one in the next day or two and see if I can get some shots of the open wings. I should mention that I wrote quite a bit about predatory Stinkbugs last week if you want to find out more about the Pentatomidae family. However, I’ve just realized I have a lot more to say about them, so stay tuned for something more in the next week or so. But I digress.

As we walked along the section of trail that is wetter during the springtime, we passed by many Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) plants. Numerous butterflies could be seen flitting from one flowerhead to the next, including this beautiful Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria) with its intricately marked underwings. Twice, it flew and landed on my mom before returning to the Boneset flowers. I should mention that Boneset probably gets it name from the shape of its stem and leafs, which resemble bone joints, and it has been used in native and folk medicines.

Another flower seen growing in the same damp section of the trail was Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata). Not pictured, but also growing nearby were occasional Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As we passed through this section of trail, we encountered several large Canada Darner dragonflies (Aeshna canadensis). I had hoped to photograph one, but it was a warm sunny day, and they were actively hunting, so there weren’t too many photo ops. One day soon, I’ll post photos of another that was more cooperative.

Of the flowers in bloom just now, perhaps the most stunning of all is the Closed Gentian (pictured at the top of this essay). I believe the ones that grow here at the farm are Gentiana andrewsii. The colour is a gorgeous shade of blue. The petals of the Closed Gentian (also known as the Bottle Gentian), do not open. In The Book of Swamp and Bog, John Eastman writes that these flowers are pollinated by Bumblebees that force their way inside, crawling in and then backing out. He also writes that the Closed Gentian is one of the richest of all flowers in nectar quantity (up to 45 mililiters) and sweetness (40 percent sugar).

But it wasn’t just the Gentians attracting the bees that day. Conspicuous all along our walk were many Bumblebees and Honeybees on flowers of all kinds throughout the meadows here at the farm. The above photo of a Bumblebee on a Red Clover flower provides quite a good view of the hind leg structure and the corbicula section which is shaped to hold the pollen collected by the bee.

One other insect that should be mentioned, is the Tree Cricket (Oecanthus sp.). At this time of the year, the air is filled with their steady song which emanates from vegetation along most of the trails, but especially from the raspberry canes in the fencerows. They are most easily found by searching the very top leaves of Common Milkweed as they like to rest there, head facing downwards towards the leaf axils. I exposed this one to show to my mother, and then shot a few photos of it after. I think this species is probably the Snowy Tree Cricket (Oecanthus fultoni) which is common in our region and throughout much of North America.

And that’s about it. Actually, we saw much more and this essay could probably go on for a few pages, but the above are the highlights which I most wanted to share.

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10 Responses to “on our walk”

  1. Lynne Says:

    I am again amazed at the beauty in the insects that you find. I need to look more closely when outside! The Red Admiral is especially pretty- what a beautifully made little creature. Thanks for the look and the lesson.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Lynne – As you might well guess, I think insects are wondrous little creatures and fully deserving of our attention. I definitely recommend wandering the gardens and fields carrying a decent magnifying glass of some kind — or alternatively, photographing what you see using a camera with a nice large LCD screen. It is a great way to increase one’s appreciation for the beauty of the tiny things in our world.

  3. Duncan Says:

    I’m continually amazed by the wealth of insects you come across Bev. Purpletop, Verbena bonariensis is a common introduced weed around the river here at home.

  4. Patty Ann Smith Says:

    Your site here, Bev, is truly part of Heaven on Earth!

    Burning Silo and the Jane Goodall Institute are the only 2 “outside” nature sites that I have on my links on my blog. Your site has an outstanding ability to inspire people to think more about nature. And, that kind of change of consciousness is what we need for our planet’s future to have a more healthy direction.

  5. Dave Says:

    Wow, I didn’t know that about bottle gentians having so much nectar and sweetness! Really makes me appreciate them. Also, I loved your trigram-bearing stinkbug larva. Great post.

  6. burning silo Says:

    Duncan – I see insects wherever I go. Last winter, I even found tons of insects, spiders and some other inverts on the snow in January. Everyone who knows me was laughing at how I managed to find insects to photograph in the middle of winter.

    Patty Ann – Thanks. I enjoyed reading what you had to say about this blog inspiring people to think more about nature. I’m a great believer in helping people learn to see the natural world around them. With greater awareness, I’ve found that people begin to care more about protecting nature.

    Dave – Isn’t that neat about the nectar in the bottle gentians? This time of the year, I see them flowering along a number of the creeks where I paddle. And yes, those stinkbugs are cool little guys. I photographed quite a few interesting examples this summer and will try to gather some of those photos together sometime soon and do a post about them.

  7. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    I think I have said this before, but if not I do think it almost every day: You would be a wonderful person to walk with! Of course with your stopping, my partner’s stopping to take one more photo, and my looking at things too, we might not get more than 10 or 12 metres done per hour. Thanks again for sharing your wonderful photos! (Gentians don’t seem to grow in our area. What kind of habitat do they need? I am thinking, just off hand that it needs to be wet and cool as I think I have seen them on the Bruce Peninsula and in Algonquin.)

  8. Wayne Says:

    Nice walk in the woods, Bev! I saw the pic on top, and immediately thought, “Gentians!” I’m afraid we don’t have very many gentians down here.

    Bonesets are among my favorites – rather homely overlooked plants but they are a favorite of bees and lepidopterans.

    Verbenas were one of the first plants I became curious about, with their electric blue flowers. Most of ours are V. braziliensis (I think) which are nonnatives but they provide such a good food resource for insects that it’s hard to object to them.

  9. burning silo Says:

    OW – I think you’re right… if we went out walking together, we wouldn’t cover much ground, but we would see many things! I find Closed Gentians mostly in damp soil, usually the black, soggy soil along riverbeds, or in wet fields. Fringed Gentian (Gentiana crinita) seems to grow in somewhat drier soil, or soil that occasionally dries out. The best colonies of Fringed Gentian that I’ve seen have been on the thin soil of a limestone plain near here (somewhat alvar-like habitat).

    Wayne – Thanks! I belive that Gentians are fairly particular about habitat. That’s definitely the case with Fringed Gentian as I only know of a couple of places where they can be found locally. Of course, the other problem with them is that they have a relatively short bloom season, so it’s difficult to be in the right place at the right time. They are lovely plants though. I like Boneset too, and also Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) that grows in ditches and on the wet banks of the rivers up here.

  10. romunov Says:

    See my picture of Gentiana clusii. :)