Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Life and death in the backyard

Some days, one doesn't have to go far at all to see wildlife in action. The scale of the wildlife may be a bit different, but it is every bit as dramatic.

Milkweeds are in prime condition these days. I've never liked the name 'Common Milkweed' especially since, at least in Ontario, it has been considered a noxious weed for so many decades. Landowners were, up until a couple of years ago, required by law to eliminate it. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is actually rather attractive and aromatic; its role in the insect and invertebrate world is quite amazing.
Numerous pollinating insects zero in on the colourful and fragrant flowers. But therein lies a huge risk for some of the critters. Note the intricate detail of the close-up of milkweed flowers in the next photo.

Some of these tiny flowering parts are a bit flexible, depending on how much pressure is put on them, and that can spell serious trouble to the insects applying that pressure. In the next image is a reasonable sized bee. It looks okay at first glance, but it is very dead.

As it has crawled over the flowers trying to collect nectar, one of its feet slipped between some of the flowering parts, and it is stuck. A bigger insect might have had the strength to free its foot. A smaller insect would not have gotten caught. But just as in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this third one was just right....or as far as the bee is concerned, just wrong. It was trapped and is now very dead. On rare occasions I have seen a leg remaining in the grip of these milkweed flowering parts, so somewhere there is a pollinator missing one of its six legs.

In previous years, the milkweeds are not as large and robust as they are this year, thanks to the much greater rainfall which has resulted in greater growth. As a result, when the plants and flowers are smaller, an insect the size of this bee would have escaped easily, and only smaller insects would have been caught.

On a recent occasion, I was taking a photo of a dead bee and it wasn't until I got the image on the computer that I noticed two creamy white legs somehow involved with the bee.

The white legs were from a Goldenrod Crab Spider which had caught this bee and was  presumably sucking the juices out of its victim.

After awhile, I went back outside to the scene of this incident and noted the now empty carcass was sitting on a milkweed leaf.

 And there not too far away, was the crab spider, with legs outstretched ready for another victim. In the case of a crab spider, the front four legs are larger and stronger than the back four, enabling it to capture and subdue its victim.
Crab spiders are able to change their colours from yellow to white to pink and various combinations in between. This enables it to lie in wait very inconspicuously. The change doesn't occur instantly, but normally takes several hours.

Other spiders are sometimes seen. In this next image is a Zebra Jumping Spider. There are several dozen different jumping spiders, all quite small, and some of them are quite elaborately coloured.
 And they can be found feasting on their prey, as in the case of this next image showing a jumping spider sucking the juices out of a fly.
In any natural environment, one can see death, but one can also see the promise of new life.

Cabbage White butterflies are common.
 Eventually one may find a caterpillar of this butterfly.
Black Swallowtail butterflies periodically show up.
 They search out dill, parsley and other members of the same family to lay their eggs on, as the caterpillars require them for nourishment.

This next image shows a very young caterpillar at about the first instar stage:
 At about the third instar stage:
 And just before it is ready to form a pupa.
Another butterfly that is quite often around our yard: the Question Mark.

Other insects include, unfortunately, Japanese Beetles.....colourful to be sure, but not desirable!
Lots of 'this' going on, but three's a crowd!
A few days ago we had some of these Mayflies, sometimes called Fishflies, hanging around.
Years ago they were reported along the Lake Erie shoreline to be so abundant that they would pile up on the roads deep enough to clog up the radiators of vehicles driving by to the point that the vehicles would overheat and be forced to stop! Large numbers of these insects are, in some respects, a good thing from a water quality standpoint. The greater the abundance of these insects, the better the water quality.

I started this post with a purplish-pink wildflower, and I will end it with a similarly coloured one that is in our yard: Climbing Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera), which is quite rare in Ontario and officially ranked as Special Concern. True to its name, it likes climbing when given a chance. One of the plants in our yard has climbed up at least 5-6 metres in an open branched tree.
Climbing Prairie Rose


  1. Hallo Allen,
    What a wonderful observation of life in abundance, thank you from a sunny, but cold in the shade, Picton, NZ.
    Love and blessings, Paula.

    1. Hi Paula....thanks so much for your appreciative comments. Hope you are enjoying your 'quiet' season.