Insect-hunting at Hurdman

When the birds are quiet – as they are this time of year, keeping their heads down and trying to keep their offspring alive long enough to learn how to fly – the insects are at their most abundant. Because adult insects generally have a short lifespan, the window of opportunity to see many species is relatively small. June is a great time to see a wide variety of butterflies and dragonflies and to look for the more colourful, interesting, or strange-looking bugs. Although Hurdman hasn’t been a great place for butterflies this year, it is a spot where I can easily lose a whole lunch hour in just a small area, investigating clumps of flowers for insect life. These are some of the insects I’ve seen on my outings in mid-June.

I really have no idea what this is, but it intrigued me the moment I saw it. An insect that is half black, half white, who would have thought it possible? I tried to get close enough to get a macro shot so I could determine what type of insect it was, but it flew off after I took this one picture.

Black and white

Powdered Dancers are very common at Hurdman, in particular along the shore where there are rocks large enough for them to perch on and along the trails. They come in a couple of different colours: immature males and females have a tan thorax with dark shoulder stripes; however, blue-form females exist which have a blue thorax. Mature males develop a white pruinosity. Some immature males, such as the one below, seem to have a purple hue.

Powdered Dancer

Stream Bluets have recently emerged. Found near flowing water, they are one of the easiest damselflies to identify. Males have a blue thorax with a wide, dark shoulder stripe and a black abdomen with thin blue rings. Segment 9 is entirely blue, and segment 8 is black on top and blue below, with the black mark tapering to a point at the tip. I usually find these bluets in the vegetation between the bike path and the water.

Stream Bluet

The other damselfly species found in abundance at Hurdman is the Eastern Forktail. In fact, this may be one of our region’s most common odonate species, given its long flight season and ability to thrive in a variety of wetland habitats. Males have a green and black striped thorax and dark abdomen with blue markings on the last two segments.

Eastern Forktail, male

Females come in two colour forms. Those which are coloured like the male are relatively rare; the orange form is far more common. As they age they become covered with a grayish-blue pruinosity and develop bright green eyes.

Eastern Forktail, female

The only other damselfly species I see regularly at Hurdman (i.e. every summer) are Skimming Bluet and Rainbow Bluet. I have yet to get a decent photo of a Skimming Bluet because these damselflies like to hang out on vegetation right above the water, and by the time they emerge the growth is too thick to even get close to the water. Rainbow Bluets are much less frequently seen, and in fact I usually only come across them on one or two outings each summer.

Rainbow Bluet

One butterfly I can count on seeing every summer is the Common Ringlet, which can be abundant in the grassy fields.

Common Ringlet

Hurdman is a good place to see hover flies, particularly toward the end of summer. This species has been VERY abundant this season, seen just about everywhere so far this summer, including my own backyard and at the bus stop in the morning!

Mating Hover Flies

On one of my outings I was fortunate to come upon a Golden Tortoise Beetle. I saw a small, colourful insect fly by and when it landed on a leaf I immediately recognized it by its gold, shiny appearance which quickly began to turn red. There is a thin layer of moisture between the transparent cuticle and an inner layer of the elytra, and the beetle is able to change colour by controlling the amount of moisture present. The gold colour is produced by an optical illusion resulting from the reflection of light through the layer of liquid. When the insect is stressed, or when it dies, the liquid between the two layers of its shell thins to the point where there is not enough moisture to produce the illusion. You can see how the head is still completely gold.

Golden Tortoise Beetle

Okay, so this isn’t an insect, but a bird whose diet depends chiefly on insects. Normally catbirds are not very accommodating when it comes to being photographed, but this one was VERY irate with me and kept following me from branch to branch until I left the area. Three other catbirds were lurking in the tangles, so I imagine he was protecting his newly-fledged young.

Gray Catbird

Since the last time I’d been at Hurdman, there had been a major insect emergence. I saw hundreds of these small moths in the vegetation all along the bike path, along with numerous larger insects whose flight pattern also resembled that of a moth. I peered into the leaves of a couple of shrubs and finally managed to get a decent photo of the moth:

Canadian Petrophila

The larger insect was not a moth but a caddisfly. Although adults resemble moths, larvae are aquatic and weave mesh-like nets to catch food items as they are swept downstream.

Zebra Caddis

While photographing the caddisflies and moths, I came across a colourful caterpillar munching on a leaf. These caterpillars are considered pests as they feed on a large variety of trees, including conifers, and can completely defoliate them. A single generation lives each year, overwintering in the egg stage. Male adults fly during the daytime in the summer, but females are flightless and lay their eggs on the cocoon from which they emerged.

Rusty Tussock Caterpillar

The insect world is a fascinating one, with such an endless variety and diversity of species that one can never hope to learn all the different kinds that live even in a small area. The more new species I come across and photograph, the less I seem to know. And the more I learn, the more it seems that Man does not rule the earth…the insects do.

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