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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … on the Feathery Fern Frond?

What Is That … on the Feathery Fern Frond?


This article looks at some of the beasties you might find resting on ferns, but first, here is a short background on ferns themselves.  Ferns are ancient non-woody plants that first appeared on earth during prehistoric times.  They reproduce via spores, having evolved before flowering plants and having neither flowers nor seeds.  They typically grow in shady, moist areas.  In general, ferns do not attract many pollinators nor pollinators’ predators, since they do not have flowers.  Nonetheless, their broad feather-like leaves, termed fronds, attract a variety of creatures seeking a resting place or a lookout point.  Over 70 species of fern can be found growing in Ontario.  The most common and the most abundant around our cottage on White Lake is the ostrich fern with its rosette of ostrich-plume-like fronds.  The second most common species at the cottage is the bracken fern whose single frond branches into three main parts.

The snowberry clearwing moth is the most common of the three species of clear-winged sphinx moths found in Ontario.  This moth can be seen in May and early June actively feeding on flowers during the day.  With their transparent wings; ability to hover; long beak-like feeding proboscis; large body size; and habit of flitting from flower to flower, they are sometimes confused with hummingbirds.  No surprise, some people call them hummingbird moths.  We were fortunate to find and photograph this individual resting on an ostrich fern frond early in June.

The little wood satyr is a member of the satyr and wood nymph subfamily of brushfoot butterflies, and is seen frequently at the lake early in the summer.  Members of this subfamily are usually brown coloured; have one or more marginal eyespots; and, are medium-sized.  Adults, with their short proboscises, rarely feed on flowers.  They are active during the day, feeding on rotting fruit, animal droppings, and sap.  When perched their wings are often closed, held above the body.  When basking in the early morning sun, they are more likely to perch with their wings open wide, showing their many eyespots.  This individual was pictured while basking on a bracken fern frond.

The two-striped grasshopper is a large-sized member of the grasshopper family common at our cottage.  It is easily distinguished from other grasshoppers by the distinct pair of yellow stripes running from the head to the tips of its wings.  They are most common in moist areas such as where ferns can be found.  They are active daytime plant feeders and can be observed from June to late fall at White Lake.  This individual was not feeding but resting on this ostrich fern frond.

The chalk-fronted corporal is the most common member of the skimmer family of dragonflies at White Lake.  We revel in the groups of adults zooming about our heads from May to August, knowing that they are helping to manage the waves of blood-sucking flies that endeavour to diminish our outdoor enjoyment.  This adult male was photographed while taking a brief rest on an ostrich fern frond.

Insects are not the only beasts that bask or take refuge on fern fronds.  As shown below, juvenile gray treefrogs get in on the fern-frond-action too.  The gray treefrog is the largest of the five species of treefrogs found in Ontario.  Adult frogs are mottled grey and black while juvenile frogs are green.  Juvenile frogs can be observed starting in early June.  The colouration of juvenile frogs changes from green to grey in early fall. They spend much of their time during the summer and fall in trees and shrubs where they feed on insects.  Generally, adults overwinter in leaf litter or buried in the soil although one of our cottage neighbours had an adult take up residence in their unused bar-b-q side-burner last fall. This individual, though, is resting on an ostrich fern frond.

While one is much more likely to see pollinators and their predators on flowers blooming along the roadside, we recommend you also cast an eye over the lush collections of various species of fern as they too may harbour some interesting visitors, as well as being soothing to contemplate on their own.

We relied on the following sources preparing this article: John Acorn’s Bugs of Ontario; Ross D. MacCulloch’s The ROM Field Guide of Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario; Tom Murray’s Insects of New England and New York; and, Paul A. Opler and Vichai Malikul’s Peterson Field Guides Eastern Butterflies.  If you are interested in information about ferns visit http:ontarioferns.com.




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