Well, we are in the depths of winter, even when Ian Black briefly throws some spring-like weather at us. Winter comes with dull, gray overcast days during which we take great solace from looking over pictures we took at our cottage on White Lake during the summer. During one such cheer-generating review, we noticed that many of the insects we photographed were, at first glance, dull and gray, similar to the weather we were trying to ignore. However, on closer inspection we could see that many had distinctive features, patterns, or splashes of colour that elevated them from dull to attractive. We want to share some of these note-worthy gray insects with you to help brighten up what might otherwise be a dull, gray winter’s day.
The Acadian hairstreak is one of the larger species of gossamer-wing butterflies we see at the cottage, but the gossamer-wing family includes some of our smallest butterflies. Adult Acadian hairstreaks have a wing span of 2.4 to 3.2 centimeters and typically hold their wings closed over their backs while resting. Distinctive markings that can be observed on the undersides of their wings include white-rimmed black spots on both the fore and hind wings and a small tail on the following edge, orange spots, and a blue crescent-shaped marking, termed lunule, near the tail on the hind wing.
Members of the caddisfly family are probably best known for their aquatic larval stage. Larvae construct distinctive cases to help protect them from predators. The case-making larvae are scavengers that also constitute an important food source for fish. The adult stage is also interesting given its wispy antennae and mottled wings that tent over the insect’s abdomen. Many species of caddisfly live at the cottage, with adults coming in many shades from brown to gray to black. This gray adult specimen was 3.5 centimeters long with interesting white mottling on its wings.
The road duster is a member of the grasshopper family. At rest on roadsides and disturbed soil, this drab-looking cinnamon-brown to gray-coloured grasshopper can be difficult to spot as it blends well with its surroundings; even its eyes blend into the overall background. It is a different matter when flying, as the trailing edge of the road duster’s dark gray hind wings have a narrow band of white or yellow. In flight they can easily be mistaken for mourning cloak butterflies, at least by us. Road dusters are the largest of the grasshoppers we see at the cottage with adults growing to 5 centimeters in length. Having watched where this individual landed, we were able to take this ‘at rest’ photograph.
The rough stink bug is usually found on tree trunks. While they can grow from one to two centimeters long, they can be difficult to spot because their irregular shape and gray colour allow them to blend in with the tree bark. All stink bugs, which are members of the true bug family, have a triangular-shaped segment, called a scutellum, between their ‘shoulders’. Stink bugs are herbivorous insects that are common at our cottage and have scent glands that can produce a bad odour when the insect feels threatened, hence the insect’s common name. This individual, with its pronounced black markings along the edge of the abdomen, was spotted resting on the cottage deck.
The notable sawyer, a member of the beetle family, feeds on wood in its larval stage. The body of adults can grow to 3.5 centimeters in length. The most distinctive feature is its long, curved antennae. The males have longer antennae, in proportion to their body size, than the females while the females tend to be larger overall than the males. This individual male sporting black spots on its gray wing covers, termed elytra, was photographed while it checked out our wood deck at the cottage. A wood-boring beetle, it may have been considering the deck for its nursery. Oh no!
The next time you spot, but prepare to ignore, a gray insect you may want to take a closer look to see if you can find its interesting attributes. This can prove rewarding.
We relied on the following field guides in preparing this article: Peter W. Hall et al’s The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario; and, John Acorn’s Bugs of Ontario.