Ecologically Yours

By Art Goldsmith

August 19, 2015

Another fine summer day in August found me in the company of Grégory Bulté and his Ecology Field Course. Grégory is an instructor at Carleton University’s Biology Department, and according to the university’s website, he is:

“…broadly interested in the ecology, evolution and conservation of animals.”

What this does not tell you is that Grégory’s enthusiasm and knowledge about the life around Lake Opinicon and the wetlands bordering the lake, are boundless.

Officially the course is called “Field Ecology & Natural History” and this year was offered to 12 students during the last two weeks of August at QUBS.

Grégory, with his blue t-shirt in the foreground, here supervises the survey of some of the animals that live along the shores of Lake Opinicon, some rarely being seen at all. The purpose of this field study is to learn about the diversity of the lake and surrounding lands.

Grég raises the trap. The mysteries of the lake are revealed

Turtles, fish, frogs and snakes are briefly captured, photographed, identified and then released. Lake Opinicon is home to some less common turtles, like the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) and the Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus). Note the excellent Latin species names, “geographica” and “odoratus”. They are both so descriptive of the animals. Map Turtles are named for the markings on their shells, which are reminiscent of the lines of a topographical map. Musk Turtles are also called Stinkpots, because they emit a stinky liquid from their musk glands when disturbed.

A Northern Map Turtle swims for the camera. (Photo by Grégory Bulté)
A Northern Map Turtle swims for the camera. (Photo by Grégory Bulté)

Below is a photo by your blogger of a very shy Musk Turtle taken at Lake Opinicon a few years ago. It is rare to see one out of the water. They do, on occasion, emerge onto a snag that angles out of the water, like this one, usually in an area that is well hidden. These are small turtles, usually less than 13 centimetres long. Map Turtles are among our larger turtles. Females in Lake Opinicon have measured up to 26.5 cms long and males up to half of that length. They are often seen basking on larger rocks in our rivers and lakes in Eastern Ontario.

Musk Turtle

This photo of Grég tells us about the joy of the field course. It captures the underlying good feelings from learning in the field. The photos that follow were all taken by or provided by Grég.
This photo of Grég tells us about the joy of the field course. It captures the underlying good feelings from learning in the field. The photos that follow were all taken by or provided by Grég.
The lake, the sky and the clouds dwarf the class as they check a trap. Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
The lake, the sky and the clouds dwarf the class as they check a trap.
Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
Many fish were in this trap. The majority are sunfish, mainly Bluegills and Pumpkinseeds (Lepomis spp.)
Every grade-school kid's first ecology lesson... big fish eat little fish, in this case, a fingerling Bass is swallowing a neighbour not that much smaller than the Bass.
Every grade-school kid’s first ecology lesson… big fish eat little fish, in this case, a fingerling Bass is swallowing a neighbour not that much smaller than the Bass.

Blackchin Shiner

Two of the many representatives of the Cyprinidae family (minnows and carp) in Lake Opinicon. Above is the Blackchin Shiner (Notropis heterodon) and below is the Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas).  The Blackchin Shiner is native to the Great Lakes‒St. Lawrence basin. It is a small fish, rarely exceeding 6 cms.  The Golden Shiner may grow up to 30 cms., although most are in the size range pictured below.  This popular bait fish is native to much of eastern and central North America and has been accidentally introduced well beyond its native range.

Golden Shiner

Frogs abound in and around the lake.  The first two photos, above, feature a frog that rarely leaves the water, the American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus). Our largest frog in Ontario, the Bullfrog is very aggressive with other frogs—and anything else that moves!  The third photo, above right, is a Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). This is also a large, mostly aquatic frog, which is frequently mistaken for the Bullfrog. Note the clearly visible ridges running down the sides of this frog’s back.  These ridges are distinguishing marks of the Green Frog. Below left is a photo of a Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens). Leopard Frogs travel far from the water during the summer months and return to overwinter in lakes and ponds. Below top centre is a Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), distinguished by facial side masks. Scrunched up on the Milkweed leaf, below right, is a Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor), our loud summer frog. Its call is often mistaken for a bird. As the Latin name suggests, the Grey Tree Frog changes colour to match its surroundings for better camouflage. The Green Frog and Leopard Frog photos were taken by Art Goldsmith. The remaining four photos were taken by  Grégory Bulté.


The other group of common, and usually hidden, amphibians is the salamander (above lower row).  The three species above are best seen in early spring when spring melt waters and warm rains form ponds and pools where many salamanders breed in the evening hours. These salamanders spend most of their time dug into the soil or beneath rocks and fallen tree limbs in moist forests where they hunt for invertebrates. The three of Ontario’s 12 species shown here are, from left, Blue-spotted (Ambystoma laterale), Spotted (Ambystoma maculatum), and the lung-less Eastern Red-back (Plethodon cinereus). The latter is a member of the Plethodontidae family.  The species in this family have no lungs, and therefore are restricted to moist, terrestrial habitats where they breed and lay their eggs.  The other two Ontario members of this family are the Two-Lined and the Dusky Salamanders, neither of which have been recorded at QUBS.


For a slight change of focus, we look at a few reptiles.  Above are two photos of a Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) that posed for students.  This common reptile is found in and around ponds, lakes and rivers throughout the southeastern portion of Ontario.  Below is a much rarer species, the Eastern or Grey Ratsnake (Pantherophis spiloides), an effective predator of rodents and other small animals. The large tracts of conservation lands protected by QUBS are vital to the Ratsnake’s  survival as the population in the Rideau Lakes is threatened; whereas in southern Ontario, it is endangered.

Grey Ratsnake

Of course, the underpinnings of any functioning ecosystem are its wealth of native plants and fungi, both macroscopic and microscopic. Fungi make up a very large percentage of the Earth’s biomass.  Then there are the invertebrates—the huge diversity of arthropods in Eastern Ontario, and the other invertebrate phyla—all forming the base of food and energy production for all of us vertebrates.  The previous blog post featured the entomology field course and just a sample of the insects to be found in the area around QUBS.  Here are a few more insects , other invertebrates and a small sample of the local plants.

Note that fungi will be the subject of my next post, Richard Aaron’s Fabulous Fall Fungi field course.

Widespread throughout North America and ecologically significant in our lakes, ponds and marshes, the Yellow Pond-lily (Nuphar lutea), pictured above left provides shelter, food and stabilization for many animals, including some of the aquatic invertebrates. To the right of the Pond-lily is a typical dragonfly (Order Odonata) nymph. The next photo is a freshwater crustacean (possibly the Waterlouse, a species of the genus Asellus, Order Isopoda). On the far right in this sequence of four photos, one of our Leech (Hirudinea) species is pictured.  Healthy ponds and lakes are teeming with these and many other invertebrates, zooplankton and phytoplankton, which provide the basic food for all larger species.

A Jagged Ambush Bug female (Phymata americana) munches on a fly, while two male Ambush Bugs attempt to mate with her.  All of this is happening amongst tiny Goldenrod (Solidago spp) flowers.  This is a LOT of biology in one photo!
A Jagged Ambush Bug female (Phymata americana) munches on a fly, while two male Ambush Bugs attempt to mate with her.  All of this is happening amongst tiny Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) flowers. This is a LOT of biology in one photo!

Laetiporus sulphureus

We will explore in great detail the world of the fungi in our next post. I didn’t see this fungus (above) during the fungi course though.  The Laetiporus sulphureus, which has a preference for Red Oak,  has several common names, including Sulphur Shelf and Chicken-of-the-Woods.

Above, these are aquatic Leaf Beetles, Donacia sp.,  mating and another common aquatic invertebrate, a Damselfly nymph (Odonata).

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar

We are not seeing as many of these on Milkweed as we have in the past.  In a walk with two other naturalists recently, we thought it would be approrpiate to change the name of the Common Milkweed to Monarch Flower, to honour this plant which hosts the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, like the one shown above.

Hay field

Hay fields, as in the stunning photo above, are an excellent habitat to collect a wide diversity of insects and other Arthropods.  Lastly, the Grégory Bulté Ecology Field Course class of 2015.

Ecology Field Course class of 2015

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The Bugman Cometh

By Art Goldsmith

August 11-12, 2015

I spent quality time on two fine August days with THE Bugman of Ontario, Marvin Gunderman, an Entomology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Each year, a maximum of 14 very fortunate students spend two weeks with Marvin and two very motivated co-instructors, one of whom is a very capable entomologist and photographer, while the other is a crop plant specialist.

The course is officially called “Field Entomology & Ecology“. Students receive a full Ontario Universities course credit for completing the course. For more information visit http://fieldentomology.com/.

After lunch on the first day, I found a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (common at QUBS, but not in the upper Ottawa Valley, where I live).

Immediately, I showed the caterpillar to Dave, who identified it. Dave travels to QUBS from his job at the National Museum of Denmark, where he is the Collection Manager for Diptera (flies).

First thing in the morning, students gather around Marvin to take the long, long trek down the QUBS road to the first collecting site of the day, meadows and fields a-buzz with a diversity of insect life.

First thing in the morning, students gather around Marvin to take the long, long trek down the QUBS road to the first collecting site of the day, meadows and fields a-buzz with a diversity of insect life.

Only seconds have elapsed, and Marvin's keen eye has spotted a worthwhile insect model amongst the Goldenrods.
Only seconds have elapsed, and Marvin’s keen eye has spotted a worthwhile insect model amongst the Goldenrods.
Collection nets
The happy troop, collection nets in hand (except for course instructor Dave, centre) troops off down the road in search of their quarry.
Reaching the meadows, Marvin stops and surveys the scene, looking for the best and richest microhabitat to find a rare insect, or, at least, an insect representative of one of the more esoteric orders.
Reaching the meadows, Marvin stops and surveys the scene, looking for the best and richest microhabitat to find a rare insect, or, at least, an insect representative of one of the more esoteric orders.
Jeremy, above, describing the REALLY big beetle that got away.
Jeremy, above, describing the REALLY big beetle that got away.

Tales in Horse Poop

We ecologists and naturalists are an easily distracted lot. We bring new meaning to the word “FOCUS”. Indeed, who could resist focusing on a very large Arachnid, which had decided to occupy equine waste. Certainly, Marvin could not resist. Nor could I. Marvin is seen below, fancy home-made diffuser and flash at the ready with super macro lens to take a photo to record the sighting. Initially identified as a “Nursery Web” spider, the evidence later pointed to one of many Wolf spiders (family Lycosidae), which are indeed close relatives of the Nursery Web spiders (family Pisauridae) and it does take a close inspection of the arrangement of the multiple eyes to sort out. Our largest Canadian spiders are members of these two families.

Marvin 3

Fortunately, my own photo, below, does show the arrangement and decided the identification.

Lycosidae

Inspired by this impressive Lycosidae, for comparative purposes I went onto the QUBS wharf to find the most commonly seen Pisauridae, the Dock or Wharf Spider, which has caused a few “starts” in many cottage vacationers in southern Canada.  It took me seconds to find a half dozen, and another hour to get a decent photo of these shy creatures (below).

Pisauridae


All students are required to bring cameras that are able to take macro photos (i.e., lenses which are able to get very close to a small object like an insect).

Simonne taking a photo for a record of an insect on a thistle flower.
Simonne taking a photo for a record of an insect on a thistle flower. All students are required to bring cameras that are able to take macro photos (i.e., lenses which are able to get very close to a small object like an insect).

Alex

Above, Alex demonstrates the capture and preservation of an insect specimen.  Students are required to create a collection of the most common insect orders, and to arrange and identify their specimens, as shown below.  Pins are used to secure specimens onto Styrofoam.

Pins

Gunderman Course

Right, Skippers are common and diverse butterflies throughout North America. One of the most common Skippers that we see in late summer is the European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola), an exotic species from Europe that came to North America in the early part of the 20th century, when agriculture was planting a lot of Timothy grass (Phleum pretense), also from Europe. Until this summer, I often overlooked Skippers, assuming most were European. I found that many native Skippers still abound, such as the Crossline Skipper (Polites origenes). European Skippers are orange in colour. This Crossline Skipper is dull with a very faint pale band, clearly visible in this photo.

Cicada

Above, one of the students was able to capture a newly emerged Cicada, the “warm-days-of-summer” buzzing True Bug, of the order Hemiptera. We have only one species in Eastern Ontario, the Dog Days Cicada, Neotibicen (Tibicen) canicularis.

And what else is in all of those jars the students used for collecting?  Like the Diptera (the insect order that includes all of the flies, collectors will also find a lot of Coleopterans (the Beetles insect order). During late summer days in fields like the one in which we were collecting, there are many members of the Silphidae, Carrion Beetles, such as  the one pictured below, feeding on insects. So far in North America, there are less than 50 species of Carrion Beetles described. Perhaps one of the budding entomologists on this course will describe many more in the future.

Carrion Beetle

Click on this link to learn more about the Silphidae (Carrion Beetles).

I was distracted by a very large spider (our SECOND spider distraction of the afternoon. See “Tales in Horse Poop” above for another scintillating story, which even Marvin could NOT resist). Female spiders are generally much larger than males. Therefore, I expect this is a female Shamrock Spider (Araneus trifolium), as it was just under an inch in length.  Unlike the two spider families discussed under “horse poop”, which hide and surprise prey, this one is an orb weaver.

Shamrock Spider


Boathouse

I took a break from the lab chemicals to visit the QUBS wharf, above.  I was after the Wharf Spider, and I also was fortunate to see a common dragonfly of Eastern Ontario, the Black-shouldered Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spinosus), below.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg


Marvin 4

Back on the trail, the intrepid class receives Marvin’s wisdom, above, before spreading out to capture insects in a very different habitat, the wetlands around Cow Island. Below, course instructor Jen, who annually takes leave in order to help Marvin deliver this course, briefly glances up before returning to her insect detective work.

Jen

Above left, enthusiasm abounds as students collect water insects, like the Water Scorpion (Genus Ranatra), a predatory insect, in the right-hand jar, above right.

Jen and Dave

Later that evening, Jen and Dave take a moment to pose for this awesome photo (above), after a job well done. Meanwhile, below, the incredibly handsome duo of Marvin Gunderman, and your blogger, Art Goldsmith, take a brief millisecond break from their very serious taxonomical deliberations. Note Marvin’s “insect” t-shirt and Art’s hand lens!

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