‘ Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.’
Henry David Thoreau
Late summer is an exciting time to be out and about in the world of nature, at least for me. I look forward to the plethora of insects other creatures that are the late- season bloomers here in Connecticut. It can be almost a personal restorative to find flora and fauna in their natural habitats going about in their daily groove. It is a relaxing escape, at least for me, and is often full of surprises.
The shoreline can provide an excellent opportunity to see wading birds like plovers and egrets well after breeding season is over. Also, late summer is the time to find migrating butterflies making their final push north at the close of their breeding season. A recent trip to the Guilford Salt Meadows Sanctuary proved timely as there were many monarch butterflies floating about and one was laying eggs on milkweed plants. A friend reports he was in Waterford last weekend at Harkness Memorial State Park and he also saw numerous Monarch butterflies there.
Snowy egrets are fun to watch as they wade in shallow coastal waters searching for fish and other aquatic animals. They are identified by their elegant white form, black legs and bill and funky yellow feet. While they often stand frozen on logs or the water’s edge waiting for prey to come near, they also will run through the water, wings outstretched, as they chase fish or other vertebrates. Breeding plumage of wispy plumes adorn the head and back of snowy egrets, and were used by the fashion industry for hats and other items, nearly causing this bird to become extinct.
Dragonflies are abundant now, and green and blue darners are especially conspicuous on account of their size. Dragonflies can be found in the early morning hours resting on dewy grass and other plants waiting for the sun to rise to provide the warmth needed to fly. Predatory as nymphs and adults, dragonflies are made for the fast flight and aerial maneuvers necessary to catch insects on the fly.
Lots of butterflies are around right now, especially where goldenrods, Joe-pye weed, boneset, ironweed and other late- blooming plants are found. Fritillaries and Tiger Swallowtails seem to be more abundant this year than are Spicebush Swallowtails and the Black Swallowtails. Perhaps this is due to the winter, as spring reports of the latter swallowtails indicated few, if any were seen.
Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, an introduced raspberry species whose Latin name means “ raspberry with purple hairs”, are ripe now. An eastern Asian native introduced to eastern North America in the 1800’s, it is considered an invasive weed in many states. The fruit develops within a hairy calyx which folds back as the drupelets becomes mature. Wineberries are very tasty and juicy and the seeds are not as hard as those in other raspberries.
Winged Monkey Flower, Mimulus alatus, is a native plant commonly found blooming in wet areas in early August. It has a very distinctive tubular blue to violet flower and square stems. If you hang around these plants long enough, you may see tiny bees or flower flies work their way into the flowers until they disappear deep inside the tube, crawling out shortly after obtaining nectar. The common name apparently arises from the flower’s resemblance to a monkey face.
I saw a spined Micrathena spider for the first time, near the wineberries mentioned above. This peculiar- looking member of the orb weavers can be mistaken for a leaf- footed or similar bug just by its manner of moving. This spider builds her web between shrubs or small trees and it is often this web that you may encounter when walking through the woods.
Assassin bugs and other predatory insects are common almost anywhere at this time of year. Check out goldenrod flowers for ambush bugs waiting for butterflies, bees or other insects to visit flowers. It has been a banner year for predatory stink bugs and praying mantids. Mantids can often surprise you as you deadhead flowers or cut down old lily leaves in the garden.
August is a good time to search for the caterpillars of sphinx moths. Grape is a host of a variety of sphinx caterpillar species. The giant silkworm caterpillars of the Io moth, Luna and Polyphemus, among others, are also found at this time of year. I raised several Io moth cats from the first instar and now have four pupating and two on the verge. Careful handling of these caterpillars is required as the many barbs are attached to glands that release a toxin when touched. The experience is very painful, so the good word is “ look, but do not touch”. Daggers and prominents are other interesting caterpillars found late in the summer through early fall.
Look closely at the surrounding landscape. Join me as a member of Leaf- turners Anonymous. And don’t forget to check out the ground- oil beetles and caterpillars looking to pupate travel there. Observe the sky as well for clouds and birds that can be dynamic when seen against the bluer, clearer skies of late summer and fall. Especially notice the little things. What may seem unimportant and uninteresting may prove to be worthwhile and fascinating to the careful observer. Case in point- whlie enjoying a look at a tiny gray tree frog and taking its picture, a tiny monarch caterpillar passed by in the background.
Pamm Cooper All photos copyright – Pamm Cooper