After a long week of sunny but cool weather and a strong north wind which brought migration to a halt, Friday was warm with a high of 16°C. I couldn’t afford to take the afternoon off to look for bird and butterflies so I spent an hour and a half at Hurdman instead. Not surprisingly, I found no new birds and very few individuals; city workers were noisily clearing downed trees along the feeder path, which may have sent any birds that were around scurrying for cover.
To my surprise, it didn’t take long to find my first butterfly. As I was walking along the grass a bright blue butterfly flew up and fluttered around my legs. When it landed I identified it as a Spring Azure, my first of the year! These early butterflies are on the wing from early April to mid-May in southern Ontario and are most commonly seen in open woodlands and along woodland margins where flowering shrubs are common.
Just as soon as I finished photographing the azure I saw another butterfly fly by, this one an Eastern Comma! This butterfly is most commonly found in moist woodlands, in clearings or along edges and roadsides, where it feeds on sap running from trees. The Eastern Comma and its close relative the Question Mark are associated with gardens and waste places (such as Hurdman Park) more than any other anglewings.
The Eastern Comma can be found anytime from April through to mid-October. It has two broods per year, a short-lived summer brood emerging in June and a second brood emerging in August. The second generation is the one that hibernates (or overwinters) in adult form and appears early in spring. These two generations differ in appearance – the second generation, often described as the “winter” form, is orange with black borders and distinct black spots on the upperside, while the first generation has almost entirely black hindwings above, often with a violet edging, and is known as the “summer” form.
While chasing the Eastern Comma for photos, I noticed this interesting beetle flying close to the ground. It buzzed just like a bee and looked like one in flight, which explains why it is called a Bumble Flower Beetle. A member of the scarab beetle family, this beetle emerges in spring and seeks sites of moist decaying organic matter in which to lay eggs. The adult beetles feed on a wide variety of sweet or fermenting liquids such as ripening corn, and ripe or overripe apples, grapes, melons, peaches. The pollen and nectar of flowers such as sunflower, strawflower, thistles and daylily are also eaten by the adults.
In their larval stage, the Bumble Flower Beetles resemble the white grubs which are found in garden soil and cause so much damage to lawns and plant roots. However unlike those grubs, the Bumble Flower Beetle larvae are beneficial and help recycle nutrients in organic matter, breaking down the cellulose in the garden and turning it into the nutrients needed by the plants. They feed on decaying organic matter rather than on growing roots or plants.
While I hoped to come across a few more butterflies, the only other one that I saw was a faded Cabbage White, making it my first three-species day of the season. First introduced into North America in Quebec in the 1860s, it quickly spread across the continent and is now a common sight in woods, urban areas and backyard gardens.
It is great to see so many bugs and butterflies emerging this time of year; while it’s still too early for dragonflies, there are lots of other neat insects around right now, making any outing worthwhile!