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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … in Black and White?

What Is That … in Black and White?


Mother Nature never ceases to amaze us with her dizzying displays of colours and shades, even in the darker months of winter.  That said, there are some species that have forsaken this diversity and opted for a black and white colour palate.  In this article we focus on just two black and white representatives from each of the insect, bird, and mammal families.

The American dagger moth caterpillar is covered in white or cream or pale-yellow setae (hair-like growth over its body) with five thin black dorsal lashes (longer hair-like tufts).  The following individual is the white setae variant.  The caterpillar, which can grow to six centimeters in length, typically feeds on the lower leaf surface of numerous woody shrubs and trees leaving behind irregular skeletonized patches.

Calligrapha beetles are common, with both larvae and adults being specialist herbivores that feed on specific flowering plants including their stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and roots.  The pictured species usually feeds on dogwood shrubs.  Adults are small, growing to 0.7 to 0.9 centimeters in length.  Some species sport black and white on their pronotum and elytra (protective covering over wings) while others may also have reddish brown and/or greenish colouring.

The breeding plumage of both the female and male black and white warbler is similar – black and white stripes over their entire body.  They are insectivores and forage for ants, moths and their caterpillars, as well as other insects while moving up and down tree trunks. Given their foraging behaviour, they can easily be mistaken for nuthatches or brown creepers.  The black and white warbler is one of the first warblers to return in early spring to our area.  Adults can grow to 13 centimeters in length.

Adult female and male common loons have identical black and white markings.  They are a common sight during the summer and fall at White Lake where they spend much of their time diving underwater in pursuit of small fish.  Adults grow to 81 centimeters in length.  Their eyes stand out from their black and white plumage, as they are a distinctive ruby colour in bright sunlight.

The North American porcupine is our largest herbivorous rodent, growing to 55 to 95 centimeters in length.  They are mostly arboreal feeders, eating the leaves, buds, twigs, and bark of deciduous and coniferous trees. Their fur is black with white tipped guard hairs and long, thick protective quills on their back and tail.  The loosely rooted quills can easily detach when an attacking predator comes into contact with them.  Depending on where the quills become imbedded, they can fester, prevent the attacker from eating, cause blindness, and/or migrate into the brain of the attacker.

While the striped skunk is common, we see them only occasionally since they are most active foraging from dusk to dawn which is when we are usually inside our cottage.  These cat-sized carnivores grow to be 55 to 80 centimeters in length.  They are omnivorous, feeding primarily on insect larvae and adults as well as bird eggs, baby birds, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, berries, and carrion.  When we find small excavations in our cottage yard in the morning, we know a skunk has visited and feasted on insect larvae during the night.

Some may think black-and-white wildlife is drab and uninteresting.  However, we like to think of our black and white neighbours as interesting in their own right as well as being formally attired ambassadors reminding us of the natural bounty we enjoy during our summers at our cottage.

We relied on the following field guides when researching this article: David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America; Arthur V. Evans’ Beetles of Eastern North America; Roger Tory Peterson’s Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America; Jeffrey C. Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds; and, Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario.


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