A Beetle-ful Day

On the last day of July Bob Bracken, Chris Lewis, Mike Tate and I went out to do some dragon-hunting. We started off at the Bill Mason Center where the birds seemed to be more plentiful than the odonates. We found robins, waxwings, Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, one Yellow Warbler, at least half a dozen Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Northern Flicker and an Alder Flycatcher in the marsh; in the woods we heard a Veery, a Hermit Thrush and an Eastern Wood-pewee. The best bird of the day, however, was a juvenile Marsh Wren which responded to Bob’s pishing by hopping onto the boardwalk rail!

I’ve never heard any Marsh Wrens at the Bill Mason Center, so seeing one was a pleasant surprise. The wren seemed just as interested in us as we were in it:

Juvenile Marsh Wren

We proceeded to the sandy pond, but there seemed to be few odonates present, and only the most common species. Last year I recalled seeing tons of dragonflies every time I visited, but this year has been much different. Then Chris pointed out an Azure Bluet, a small damselfly with a mostly black abdomen. This species prefers boggy ponds, gravel pit ponds, and slow waters with lots of vegetation.

Azure Bluet

While looking in the sparse vegetation for more bluets, I noticed this lady beetle sitting on a leaf. Most of the lady beetles (or “lady bugs”) that I come across are the non-native Asian Lady Beetle. They are so numerous that about 80% of the lady beetles that I find are usually this species (most of the others that I find are Spotted Lady Beetles). Whenever I come across a lady bug, I always check to see what kind it is. I was happily surprised when I realized this individual was not an Asian Lady Beetle but rather a beautiful, native Three-banded Lady Beetle. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this species.

Three-banded Lady Beetle

As usual, there were lots of bullfrogs sitting in the water along the shore. For some reason the ones that I see along this pond are all huge, at least as big as my fist.


Just as we were leaving the area, I noticed a small, dark dragonfly land on the sand close by. It was a Lancet Clubtail, a species I’ve seen here before. It’s not a common species in Ottawa, and I pointed it out to the others.

Lancet Clubtail

From there we drove to Mud Lake to continue our search for odonates. We had more luck here, finding Common Green Darners, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, two Blue Dashers, Common Whitetails, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Widow Skimmers, Powdered Dancers, and a pair of spreadwings in tandem. Our best finds at Mud Lake were both observed at the river: a Swift River Cruiser patrolling the water at the end of Britannia Point, the yellow spot at the end of his abdomen clearly visible; and a Black-shouldered Spinyleg sitting on a rock about 15 feet out from the shore. I didn’t have much luck photographing any odonates, but I found plenty of intriguing insects visiting the abundant goldenrod and other plants.

I found another interesting lady beetle on the goldenrod. This one is not native to Canada, but is less abundant than the Asian Lady Beetle (at least in my experience). It has only seven spots, three on each side and one on the top.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

There were lots of these yellow and black leaf beetles in the vegetation as well.

Leaf beetle

Ambush bugs were plentiful as well. These insects hide in flowers such as goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for unsuspecting insects to land on the flower. The Ambush Bug then snatches the prey and begins devouring it. This Yellow-collared Scape Moth was one such unlucky victim.

Ambush Bug with Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Mating Ambush Bugs

It was a great day for beetles, for one other beetle caught my eye: the bright, crimson-coloured Red Milkweed Beetle. As its name suggests, this insect feeds on milkweeds, a plant that is toxic to many living creatures. Like the monarch butterfly, this beetle stores the toxic chemicals in its body, making it distasteful to predators. If ingested by a bird or a mammal, it is quickly spit out and the predator thus learns to associate the bright colour of the Red Milkweed Beetle with that unpleasant experience. Aposematism is the name given to such antipredator adaptations where a warning signal is associated with the unsuitability of a prey item to potential predators. The bold colouration of the Red Milkweed Beetle, the Monarch Butterfly, and even the familiar skunk is a defence mechanism that warns potential predators of the existence of another primary defensive mechanism.

Red Milkweed Beetle

We also saw lots of avian summer residents, including a couple of Northern Cardinals, an Eastern Kingbird, an Osprey, three Turkey Vultures, one Great Egret, one Black-crowned Night-Heron, and the usual Wood Ducks, Warbling Vireos and Cedar Waxwings. We then left Mud Lake to stop by the river at the end of Rowatt Street. The shoreline here is rocky, and Chris and Bob have seen clubtails perching on the rocks from time to time. We didn’t see any clubtails, but we did see evidence that one had recently emerged here, for Bob discovered this intact larval skin from an Elusive Clubtail nymph.

Exuvia from an Elusive Clubtail

We didn’t find any clubtails, nor did we find much other than a few Powdered Dancers. Never having seen an Elusive Clubtail, though, I’ll have to check this spot again in the future!

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