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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … On Our Lilac?

What Is That … On Our Lilac?

Waddells

We did not manage to attend the Franktown Lilac Festival this year.  Nonetheless, we entertained ourselves watching a variety of insects visiting the one, lonely lilac we have at our cottage on White Lake.  These visits were primarily by pollinators and occurred during the two weeks our lilac was in bloom at the end of May and the beginning of June.  Included in this article are nectar-feeding pollinators from the butterfly and moth order, from the bee, ant, and wasp order, as well as a member from the dragonfly and damselfly order which used our lilac blossoms as a perch.

The American lady is a member of the brushfoot family of butterflies.  This medium-sized butterfly grows to 3.7 to 5.6 centimetres in length.  Adult butterflies feed on nectar, flying actively and rapidly during daylight hours from flower to flower.  Their rapid movement presents significant challenges for would-be photographers. This species is common and consistently seen around White Lake every year.

The Canadian tiger swallowtail is a medium to large-sized member of the swallowtail family of butterflies, ranging from 5.3 to 9 centimetres in length.  It is one of eight species of swallowtail found in Ontario and is common at our cottage.  They prefer to feed on nectar found in large blossoms or composite flower clusters such as lilac, which are capable of supporting their large body size.  They are active during daylight hours.

The common eastern bumble bee is the largest and most common member of the honey and bumble bee family at our cottage.  Adults grow to over 2 centimetres in length.   They have long tongues for feeding on nectar from a broad range of flowering plants, including tubular-shaped flowers of the lilac.  We see them from late April through to October.

The four-spotted skimmer is a member of the skimmer family of dragonflies, the largest dragonfly family.  The four-spotted skimmer, the northernmost member of this family, is a common, large dragonfly that grows to 4.2 to 4.6 centimetres in length.  We have spotted them perching on plants, including lilac blossoms, as they search for flying insect prey and/or possible mates.  They do not feed on nectar.  While many dragonfly species are sexually dimorphic, males and females of this species are only distinguishable by experts based on close-up examination.

The hummingbird clearwing is a small moth, 2.5 to 3 centimetres in length, and a member of the sphinx moth family.  Adult moths have a long, well-developed proboscis and a coiled-up tubular tongue which allows them to feed on nectar at the base of tubular-shaped flowers, including lilac.  While most members of the sphinx moth family are nocturnal, this species is diurnal, actively feeding on nectar during daylight hours.

ID confirmed on BG June 11, 2023

The silver-spotted skipper is the largest of the 51 species belonging to the skipper family of butterflies found in Ontario, growing to be from 3.7 to 4.5 centimetres in length.  A distinguishing feature of skippers is their antennae which are clubbed and end in a narrow extension called an apiculus. To us, the ‘club’ looks more like a ‘hook’.  The silver-spotted skipper is a strong flyer that feeds actively on flower nectar during daylight hours.

Not only did our lilac benefit from having its flowers fertilized by the pollinators, the pollinators benefitted from the nectar provided by the lilac flowers. The flower clusters provided an excellent perch for other insects.  We benefitted from the sweet aroma, the sight of the soothingly coloured flowers, and the sound of the insect activity during our lilac’s brief flowering time.   All we had to do was make the time to watch and enjoy!

We relied on the following field guides in researching this article: David Beale and Seabrooke Leckies’s Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America; Peter W. Hall, Colin D. Jones, Antoni Guidotti and Brad Hubley’s The ROM Field Guide to Butterflies of Ontario; Tom Murray’s Insects of New England and New York; and, Dennis Paulson’s Princeton Field Guide – Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East.

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