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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Welcoming Committee?

What Is That … Welcoming Committee?


With the progressive re-opening of facilities during stage 2 and 3 of Ontario’s pandemic response, we were finally emboldened to visit our cottage in June.  We were pleasantly surprised when our return was so warmly greeted by cottage friends and neighbours.  In addition to feeling sincerely welcomed by year-round lake residents, it seemed to us as though Mother Nature had also thrown together some committees to welcome us back to White Lake.  We would like to tell you about the most notable of our welcoming committees.

The first welcoming committee we noticed included the largest number of participants.  The gypsy moth caterpillar committee occupied the shrubs and shoulders along the road to our cottage, like it was a parade route.  Many of our neighbours assumed these throngs of caterpillars were another tent caterpillar infestation similar to the one our area experienced in 2018.  On examination, we could see the throng of “greeters” was  gypsy moth caterpillars … an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars!  Clearly one of this introduced species’ favourite food plants is the oak.  The eating machines that gypsy moth caterpillars are totally defoliated our matures oaks, but gypsy moth caterpillars devour a broad range of deciduous and coniferous trees and shrubs.

Thank goodness localized gypsy moth caterpillar infestations tend to occur (only) every seven to 10 years.  Fortunately there is only one generation, in May-June, which leaves the remainder of the summer and fall for defoliated host plants to grow new leaves and rebuild their food reserves before winter.  In fact, our oaks now have a nice glow of young green leaves.  This furry caterpillar can be distinguished by the distinctive pairs of coloured tufts along its back; the first five are dark blue and the rest are dark red.   The hairs covering these caterpillars are allergenic to many people so we would recommend not picking them up with bare hands, or even touching them.  Stepping on them while wearing sturdy footwear is probably safe.

A far more visually appealing welcoming committee was a flutter of tiger swallowtails that gathered on our shoreline one afternoon.  We concluded these butterflies had congregated on our beach to greet us, while they ‘puddled’ on minerals in the damp sand.  Every year we enjoy watching individuals as they flit from flower to flower at the cottage.  This was special as it is the first time in our 13 years at White Lake that we have witnessed such an aggregation.

A water-based welcoming committee also greeted us at our cottage shoreline, an aggregation of several families of geese.  Canada geese are the largest members of the goose family found in our area.  They are prolific and common around White Lake.   Adult pairs typically lay four to eight eggs.  We have frequently observed more than one family of adult geese and their goslings joining together over the summer, we believe because there is safety in numbers.  In this case we like to think so many families got together to ensure an adequately large welcoming committee to greet us, as well as help fertilize our front ‘lawn’.

The next welcoming committee was aerial.  Amongst the heaviest of flying birds to grace our region, some adult male trumpeter swans weigh more than 13.5 kilograms.  We have marveled at their beauty and grace on those few occasions when individual trumpeters have stopped briefly at White Lake before continuing their journey north.  They are considered rare in our region but most years we glimpse one or two.  You can only guess how delighted we were to be greeted by five birds, two adults and three yearlings, early one morning while out kayaking.

Our final welcoming committee consisted of red foxes.  This member of the dog family is about the size of a large domestic cat but the long white-tipped bushy tail makes adults appear larger.  Red foxes hunt primarily at night, so we consider seeing a fox during daylight hours a real treat.  Red foxes can have litters of one to 10 kits that are born in April or May.  The adults and their kits stay together for three to four months.  This group of four kits (playing in the middle of the road) and one adult (lying on the shoulder of the road) made a delightful welcoming committee early one morning.  As soon as these shy animals heard our footsteps they disappeared into the vegetation along the road.

With just a bit of anthropomorphizing, we told ourselves that Mother Nature was also greeting our return to the cottage with these various welcoming committees.  How nice!

Our main references for researching this article were: David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America; Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario; and, Chris G. Early’s Waterfowl of Eastern North America.




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