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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … on the Goldenrod?

What Is That … on the Goldenrod?


We are well into fall and have winterized our cottage on White Lake.  As we went forlornly about closing the cottage we enjoyed remnants of summer during walks on the road nearby courtesy of the few goldenrod plants that were still blooming.  Our ROM field guide indicates there are about 30 different species of goldenrod in Ontario noting they can be difficult to identify because they are highly variable.  So instead of talking about the different plant species, we are focusing on the diversity of wildlife one might see on the various species of goldenrod near White Lake.  Following are pictures of just five of the many interesting creatures we have seen this year on goldenrod.

Our first photo is of a member of the family of crab spiders whose common name derives from the plant on which it is often found.  The goldenrod crab spider is small, growing to three to eight millimetres, and we often find them on ox-eye daisies as well as on goldenrod.  This ambush predator can change its colour from yellow to white to blend in with the blossom on which it is hunting.  Even the females, which are twice the size of males, can be difficult to spot since they are so well camouflaged.  The goldenrod crab spider captures insects with its extended two front pair of legs, which gives it the appearance of a crab, then holds the prey with its jaws.  This individual awaits its next meal.

The red-humped caterpillar is found throughout southern Ontario.  It feeds primarily on the leaves of common deciduous trees and woody plants.  The adult moth which can grow to 20 millimetres is pinkish-brown in colour but adults are rarely seen.  The caterpillar is generally not considered to be a pest.  The caterpillars, which can grow to 3.5 centimetres in length, overwinter in leaf litter.  This individual has expanded its diet to include goldenrod.

The small milkweed bug is a common member of the family of seed bugs.  Adults grow to 1.5 centimetres.  Their bright colours warn potential predators that they taste bad.  This bug overwinters as an adult.  They are very common and are most often seen on milkweed where they feed on the flower nectar and seeds.  These individuals seem to have a taste for goldenrod nectar.

Next is the only eastern member of the bumblebee family whose second and third abdominal segments sport orange-coloured hairs, the other segments having yellow or black hairs.  The tricolored bumble bee grows to 2.5 centimetres in length and lives in colonies.  They are active around our cottage from April through October, feeding on flower nectar and playing an important role in pollinating the flowers of many plant species.

Our last picture captures an unusual sight, one we have never seen before.   The eastern garter snake is a common non-venomous snake found throughout Ontario, as far north as James Bay.  We usually see them basking in the sun on our cottage deck or moving through our yard and along our shoreline hunting for earthworms, slugs, insects, leeches, frogs, toads, minnows and small rodents.  Adults are slender and can grow to a length of one meter.  Like all reptiles, garter snakes are cold-blooded, not able to maintain their body temperature at an even level, instead taking on the temperature of their surroundings.  They are more active when they warm up and so can often be seen early in the morning basking in sunny spots.  Garter snakes are important in controlling cottage pests as well as being an important food source for some birds.  This individual made its way to the top of a tall goldenrod to warm up in the early morning sun rays, staying there long enough for this photograph to be taken.

Some of our hay fever-suffering friends complain about goldenrod which blooms around the same time as ragweed.  Because goldenrod pollen is relatively heavy and sticks to pollinators it is unlikely to cause hay fever, while ragweed pollen, which is small and light, is easily carried by the wind to the noses of hay fever sufferers.  So even if you suffer from hay fever, as Carolyn does, you can enjoy searching for the fascinating beasties which can be seen on goldenrod.

The field guides we relied on to prepare this article include T. Dickinson, D. Metsger, J. Bull and R Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; L Weber’s Spiders of the North Woods; D.L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America; T. Murray’s Insects of New England & New York; and, B. Froom’s Ontario Snakes.




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