Back­yard in­sects

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Robert Wrigley

It was a late af­ter­noon on July 14, 2016, when I de­cided to re­lax by read­ing a book in my back­yard gazebo in Winnipeg. As I looked up to rest my eyes, I saw a tiny in­sect, back­lit by the sun, dart a few me­tres across the yard and then van­ish as if by magic. While I was won­der­ing what it could have been, and be­fore I could look down to my book again, an­other larger in­sect sailed by slowly. Then I re­al­ized that there were lit­er­ally dozens of tiny in­sects stream­ing ev­ery which way. Nor­mally I would not have been able to see them, but be­ing back­lit by the sun, they stood out like sil­very streaks of light, dart­ing and swirling on the gentle breeze. Their grace­ful move­ments, paus­ing in mid-air, and then speed­ing off again, re­minded me of bal­let dancers, leap­ing with great “hang-time” and then float­ing across the stage in time to the mu­sic of wind and string in­stru­ments. I sus­pected that some of these in­sects were in­volved in mat­ing swarms, as they twirled around in an as­cend­ing vor­tex, un­til lost against the blue sky. I just had to in­ves­ti­gate, and so I ran into the house for my but­ter­fly net.

Stand­ing mo­tion­less, on guard, at the edge of the gazebo (which must have looked re­ally bizarre), I was ready to swing at the next tar­get that flew within range. I glanced over the fence, hop­ing the neigh­bours were not ob­serv­ing my an­tics. The in­sects were ca­pa­ble of im­pres­sive eva­sive ac­tions, but af­ter sev­eral wild swings and misses, I fi­nally cap­tured a bug. As I del­i­cately ma­noeu­vered my hands through the mesh of the net, I watched the lit­tle bug rapidly slip through the net and it was gone in a flash. Ob­vi­ously the fab­ric was too coarse to hold my quarry. Most were only a few mil­lime­tres long but, hav­ing no finer net at hand, I kept swing­ing and tried to se­cure each spec­i­men quickly, with-

out squash­ing it with my blunt fin­gers be­fore it could es­cape. I con­tin­ued this ex­er­cise for half an hour, cap­tur­ing about one in­sect for ev­ery 10 tries, un­til the sun dipped be­low the roof line of the house, and then the fly­ing flotilla in­stantly be­came in­vis­i­ble.

At this point I had no idea what types of in­sects lay at the bot­tom of my vial of preser­va­tive, and it was not un­til the fol­low­ing day that I glued each one onto a pa­per “point,” at­tached to an in­sect pin. As soon as the glue was dry, I peered at the spec­i­mens through my stereo-mi­cro­scope, and with mount­ing as­ton­ish­ment be­gan iden­ti­fy­ing them into fam­i­lies. Not count­ing the many tiny flies that I failed to se­cure, the fol­low­ing is a list of the in­sects I cap­tured that af­ter­noon:

• 3 species of wa­ter scav­enger bee­tles (Hy­drophil­i­dae)

• 2 species of wee­vils (Cur­culion­idae)

• 3 species of rove bee­tles (Sta­phylin­idae)

• 3 species of sap-feed­ing bee­tles (Ni­tidul­i­dae)

• 2 species of plant bugs (Miri­dae)

• 2 species of ground bee­tles

(Bem­bid­ion frontale, Stenolo­phus)

• 1 species of stink bug (Pen­tato­mi­dae)

• 1 species of striped leaf bee­tle (Phyl­lotreta stri­o­lata)

• 1 species of pill bee­tle (Byrrhus amer­i­canus)

• 1 species of mud-lov­ing bee­tle (Hete­ro­cerus)

• 1 species of sol­dier bee­tle (Can­tharis rufa)

The sol­dier bee­tle (na­tive to Europe) had in­vaded Man­i­toba from Min­nesota only a year or two ago, and this and an­other ex­otic species – the var­ie­gated lady bee­tle (Hip­po­damia var­ie­gata) – were the sub­ject of a pa­per which Ms. Sarah Semm­ler, (di­rec­tor of the Liv­ing Prairie Mu­seum) and I pub­lished re­cently, based on first records for the prov­ince. I was as­ton­ished at the va­ri­ety of species in my back­yard – all taken within 30 min­utes of one af­ter­noon. No doubt that col­lect­ing this way pe­ri­od­i­cally from spring to au­tumn,

and night-col­lect­ing with a mer­cury­vapour light, would have easily re­sulted in sev­eral hun­dred species. I was com­pletely un­aware of all this bio­di­ver­sity of tiny species in my back­yard. The rest of the sum­mer I re­mained alert for other in­sects in the gar­den, and col­lected the fol­low­ing larger species:

• Com­mon bag­worm moth (Psy­che

casta) lar­val case of plant frag­ments, at­tached to the house,

• the ex­otic red lily bee­tle (Lil­io­ceris lilii) on lilies,

• a ground bee­tle (Stenolo­phus

comma) on the side­walk,

• the large bronzy ground bee­tle

Carabus mae­an­der, un­der a step­ping stone,

• two species of preda­ceous div­ing bee­tles (Dytis­ci­dae) that slid off my gazebo roof,

• an im­pres­sive, 70-mm (2.8-in)

long, black fe­male wasp (Peleci­nus poly­tu­ra­tor),

• a cur­rant-tip borer, long-horned bee­tle (Pseno­cerus su­per­no­ta­tus) sit­ting on a win­dow,

• a banded long-horned bee­tle (Typocerus ve­luti­nus) sip­ping

flower nec­tar,

• an ant-mimic check­ered bee­tle

(En­o­clerus ni­gripes) run­ning along a spruce log,

• two species of jewel bee­tles (e.g.,

Chrysoboth­ris femorata) that emerged from oak fire­wood stored in my garage,

• a horn­tail wasp (Xeris melan­choli­cus) and colour­ful wil­low-oak sawfly (Arge quidia) sit­ting on my gazebo deck. Nu­mer­ous wa­ter boat­men ar­rived each night at a porch light, and I was sur­prised to learn that thou­sands of these aquatic bugs were fly­ing over my house each evening. A large grasshop­per turned up one day, hav­ing flown in from some dis­tant place, and adult lady bee­tles were ex­tremely com­mon; they and their odd-look­ing lar­vae were ev­i­dent feed­ing on aphids on new plant growth. These in­cluded the large mul­ti­coloured asian (Har­mo­nia axyridis), con­ver­gent (Hip­po­damia con­ver­gens), thir­teen-spot­ted (Hip­po­damia tre­dec­im­punc­tata), and sev­enspot­ted (Coc­cinella septem­punc­tata) lady bee­tles.

Many kinds of moths spent the day­light hours sleep­ing in dark cor­ners of the gazebo, and a bird bath and rain bar­rel trapped an amaz­ing sam­ple of flies, flower flies, wasps, bees and ants. I now have a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion of mounted in­sects with­out even leav­ing my prop­erty. I won­dered how many of these in­sects would have been here had I per­mit­ted the spray­ing of my prop­erty with Malathion for mos­quito con­trol. It was grat­i­fy­ing to be­come aware that a gar­den, stocked full of non-na­tive flow­er­ing plants, could still sup­port such a com­plex ecosys­tem in the mod­est space of a back­yard. Pho­tos and in­for­ma­tion on all of these in­sects can be viewed at bug­

The var­ie­gated lady bee­tle.

Robert Wrigley's gazebo in the back­ground.

Red lily bee­tle.

Sol­dier bee­tle.

Stink bug.

This­tle bud wee­vil.

Banded longhorn bee­tle.

Wa­ter boat­man.

Cur­rant-tip borer.

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