Sometimes it amazes me that even my own backyard can host an incredible variety of wildlife. I live in a townhouse with a tiny yard, and have very little in the way of shelter for birds or bugs – there is a large tree-like shrub on my front lawn which is as tall as the house and produces little helicopter seeds in the fall that the squirrels love (one of these years I’ll get around to asking my botanist friends to identify it for me) and a six-foot tall Arrowwood Viburnum in the backyard. A couple of small Weigela shrubs are still doing well in the backyard despite their location in a shady part of the garden, and that’s it other than the annuals and perennials chosen to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. My yard is just too small and does not get enough sun to plant the kind of butterfly and pollinator garden I would really like. Further, our back lawn hosts a lot of different weeds as we aren’t exactly diligent about removing them. I hate applying any kind of chemical herbicide or pesticide, and while I go crazy a couple of times each summer trying to remove them by hand, they just keep coming back. Our neighbours probably don’t like us very much.
Still, there must be enough plant diversity in my yard because I keep discovering species there that I haven’t seen before. I never would have known that this ground beetle existed if we hadn’t dug up the old garden wall surrounding the back flower bed in order to level it out. A few small black beetles scurried away as we removed the paving stones, and then I noticed this larger one:
The purplish edging to its body isn’t due to the reflection of the light – it actually is that colour, which helped to narrow down the species. The odd shape of the pronotum, the plate-like structure covering the thorax, is also useful in identifying this ground beetle to species. Ground beetles are the ones you find when you turn over a log or stone, and often come to lights at night. Most are predatory and eat other insects, though a few are omnivores and also eat plant matter and seeds.
One evening in mid-August I went out to grab the mail and found this beautifully patterned moth in my flower bed. It was just sitting there and, thinking it was dead, I picked it up. Fortunately it was alive.
I placed it on a Hosta leaf in order to take some more photos. Diane Lepage identified it at a Dingy Cutworm Moth, a species with a wide range across continental North America. It can be found in open spaces such as fields, gardens, and waste places; the adults are nocturnal and come to light. I haven’t noticed any at my lights, though that would explain what it was doing in my garden!
This beautiful reddish-coloured moth, unfortunately, was found dead in my garage. Diane confirmed its identity as Ilia Underwing, the same species I’d seen hanging around my garage door on July 12th, although that one was a dull brown colour. This one – found on August 25th – appeared very fresh. It was just lying on the floor of my garage, so I picked it up and took it outside for a better look.
Underwing moths were given that name because the hindwing (which is usually hidden beneath the forewing) is more colourful than the top wing, whose cryptic colours help to camouflage the moth against tree trunks, logs, and other vegetation. I was able to spread the forewings open enough to get a good look at the beautiful pinkish-orange bands of the hindwing. Although sad that such a pretty creature came to an unnaturally early end (based on how fresh it appeared), I was glad to have the chance to examine it up close.
The following night was quite warm and windless, so after dark I went out to check the lights outside my house. Two more Tortricid moths had made their way to my front yard, including the neatly-patterned Oblique-banded Leafroller…
…and the strikingly colourful Sparganothis Fruitworm Moth.
Even though my property is small, it’s exciting to see new insect species showing up on my plants, at my lights, and even under the paving stones. Although not every insect that turns up is as spectacular as the Ilia Underwing moth, each has a role in our suburban ecosystem, and is welcome in my yard.