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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … of the Woods?

What Is That … of the Woods?

Waddells

Our cottage on White Lake is encircled by mixed forest and our property is mostly wooded.  This means we are surrounded by many different plants and animals that call the woods their home, including unfortunately many blood-sucking insects and ticks.  Some of this wildlife actually has ‘wood’ as part of their common name.  We want to share with you pictures of some of the beasties of the woods we enjoy at the cottage, while using insect repellents.

Often referred to as groundhogs or marmots, the woodchuck is a large brownish-coloured rodent.  This short-legged, stout-bodied herbivore can grow to 65 centimetres in length and weigh up to 5.4 kilograms.  It can be found in pastures, meadows, and as is the case with our resident groundhog, open woodlands.   Woodchucks feed on fresh grass, leaves, seeds and berries.  They hibernate from late fall to early spring in their 3 to 15-meter-long underground burrows, relying on stored fat reserves and a lethargic metabolism to survive the hibernation period.  They awaken and emerge from hibernation when fresh green shoots start to emerge, well after Groundhog Day!   Whether we call them woodchucks or groundhogs, we enjoy watching and encouraging them as they systematically consume dandelion blossoms in our cottage yard.

The wood lily, a member of the lily family of monocots, can grow to a height of 90 centimetres.  These perennial plants can be found in dry open woods and along the roadside near our cottage. Their reddish-orange six-petalled blossoms can be seen from June to August.  Plants can produce one to five bell-shaped blossoms atop a single stalk.  In addition to being common throughout much of southern and central Ontario, it is the provincial flower of Saskatchewan.  Wood lilies add lovely colour to the roadside, and thrive in our native plant cottage garden.

Chicken of the woods is a member of the bracket fungi family, long-lasting shelf-like fungi that grow from the sides of trees.  They play a vital role in the carbon cycle by breaking down dying and dead wood of both deciduous and coniferous trees. The clusters of bright sulfur-yellow to yellow-orange brackets can grow to 30 centimetres across.  It is the only member of this family that is considered edible by humans although caution is nevertheless recommended.

The male wood duck is the most colourful member of the geese, swan and duck family.  It belongs to the group of dabbling ducks which feeds on aquatic plants, insects, amphibians and minnows by dabbling and upending while floating on the surface.  This duck lives in wooded freshwater areas.  They nest in tree cavities, as high up as 20 meters, and can often be seen perching in trees.  Adults can grow to 50 centimetres in length.

The little wood satyr is a member of the brushfoot family of butterflies which is so named because they have only two functional pairs of legs with the third, frontal legs (brushfooted forelegs) being reduced in size and frequently hairy, resembling brushes.  This small butterfly has rounded, brown-coloured wings with a wingspan of up to four centimetres across.  Adults have eight submarginal black eye spots on their wings as you can see in the photo below.  Little wood satyrs feed on grasses and sedges and overwinter as hibernating caterpillars. Adults can be seen on the wing from late May to July.  We love seeing little wood satyrs.

This is just a small sample of the mammals, flowers, fungi, birds, and insects that make our cottage woods their home, and which is reflected in their common names.  Maintaining a diversity of native trees around the cottage provides us with opportunities to observe and enjoy an amazing variety of species of plants and animals that thrive in our woods.

We relied on the following field guides for researching this article: Tamara Eder’ Mammals of Ontario; Timothy Dickinson, Deborah Metsger, Jenny Bull and Richard Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; George Barron’s Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada; Jeffrey C. Domm’s Lorimer Filed Guide to 225 Ontario Birds; Peter Hall, Colin Jones, Antonia Guidotti and Brad Hubley’s The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario.

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