Goldenrods: A Special September Attraction

I have associated goldenrods with September for some 70 years, ever since I was in the early grades of elementary school and back-to-school days included a yellow-papered “Goldenrod Writing Tablet.”

Now, I enjoy many September hours in the midst of the different goldenrod species in Eliza Howell Park, watching the “critters” they attract.

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Many of the Eliza Howell summer wildflowers are nearing the end of their blooming season, but the insects appear to find goldenrod nectar plentiful and satisfactory.

Some of those attracted are large and iridescent. Here are two views of the same individual (Great Black Wasp, I think).

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Some are black and white (Bald-faced Hornet and Black and White Wasp).

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The Locust Borer Beetle is one that I do not remember from previous years. It is possible that I missed it or have forgotten, but I wonder if it is now becoming more common in EHP.

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Two that I do remember – and did an entry on last year – are the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle and the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, a moth that does not lead one to think immediately of “moth” when first seen.

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Sometimes the flowers get crowded, but most insects seem to be willing to share.

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It is not just insects that are attracted.

Sometimes there is a mammal (not pictured) wandering among the goldenrods, carrying a little camera.

Snails (Brown-lipped or Banded snails) prefer the stems to the flowers.

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Goldenrods were for years inaccurately thought to be a major contributor to “hay fever” symptoms. There is no reason to avoid and many reasons to enjoy a large path of goldenrods, definitely one of the highlights of September.

In addition to others not mentioned, the wasps and beetles and bees and moths and snails and I are grateful for their presence.

 

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Surviving the Winter? The Praying Mantis

This is a follow-up to the posting on September 13 this year – “Praying Mantis Egg Laying.”

Adult Praying Mantises do not live beyond the fall; the next generation is in the egg cases and will emerge in the spring. They will emerge if all goes well. Since September, I have been checking on egg cases in Eliza Howell Park.

My observations began on September 5, when I watched two different females lay their eggs. This is what the fresh new egg cases looked like then.

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That same day, I noticed a pair mating so was confident that those two egg cases would not be the only ones this year.

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In the weeks that followed, I many times walked the narrow path through the field of wild flowers and small shrubs/trees. I gradually saw more and more egg cases, especially when they became easier to see after the leaves dropped. These five were found in early November.

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As of now, I have located 11 different egg cases visible from that path. Almost all of them are on the small trees (buckthorn, for the most part) growing in the field. Since each egg case probably has dozens and dozens of eggs, 11 cases would suggest a large number of little mantises emerging in the spring. If all goes well.

Some of the birds that spend the winter in the park are insect eaters, birds that often seek insect eggs and larvae. Praying Mantis eggs, though protected in the oothecal, are vulnerable to birds with beaks that probe.

Recently, I have been seeing evidence of predation.

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Of the 11 egg cases I am aware of, 6 have been opened like this. And it is only November. The number of Praying Mantises estimated to emerge in the spring in Eliza Howell is decreasing rapidly.

While I have not directly observed this, I suspect that Downy Woodpeckers are responsible for invading these egg cases. Insect eggs are a part of their diet and they frequently forage on small trees and on plant stalks.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

Another threat to the survival through the winter is the weather. One of the eggs cases is on a goldenrod, a large perennial that typically does not stay standing all winter. Last week, during the first snowfall of the year, it was bent low by the heavy snow, but it came right back up when the snow melted. The first picture below is from November 9; the second from November 10.

The stem will get weaker as the season – and the snow — continues. I do not know how well developing Praying Mantises are likely to do when an egg case ends up on the ground, but there is a reason why they are placed off the ground when the eggs are laid.

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We know that only a very tiny percentage of acorns sprout. In July, I reported that very few, if any, of the toad eggs laid in the breeding pond left the pond as toadlets this year. It should not be a surprise if only a small percentage of Praying Mantis eggs laid this fall will result in live mantises in the spring of 2019.

 

The Beetle and the Moth

In Edward Lear’s famous poem, “The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea.” “The Beetle and the Moth came to Eliza Howell Park” may not be a great opening line of a poem, but the beetle and the moth have in fact come – in large numbers – this August.

The beetle is the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle and the moth is the Ailanthus Webworm Moth. Though I am without records from previous years to compare, it does definitely seem that they are both much more common this year.

Note: These are two just of the “critters” likely to be found among the goldenrods on the public nature walk in EHP on Saturday, August 25, starting at 11:00 a.m.

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle

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Soldier beetles resemble fireflies or lightning bugs. They are called “soldier beetles,” reportedly, because they reminded someone of a military uniform (especially, a red species suggested the British “redcoat”). They are also called “leatherwings.” The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle, named for its close association with goldenrods, is also called “Pennsylvania Leatherwing.”

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These beetles are often found on flowers (here on Wild Bergamot), where they feed on pollen and nectar. They also sometimes eat small insects, such as aphids, eggs, and caterpillars.

Recently, I looked over a patch of some 12 to 15 blooming goldenrods and spotted at least 20 of the beetles. Goldenrods, at this time of the year, also serve as a prime location for mating.

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Goldenrod Soldier Beetles are active as adults mostly from July to September, with peak numbers in August.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

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When not in flight, this moth, with its tightly closed wings, might be mistaken for a beetle. When in flight, it resembles a wasp. It is diurnal, loves flowers, and is a good pollinator. In the next picture, the flower is White Sweet Clover.

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Ailanthus webworms are originally native to more tropical areas. They have spread north as they have adapted to different plants to use for their webs/nests and for the larvae feed on. One such plant is the Ailanthus tree (after which the moth is named), commonly known as tree-of-heaven.

In Eliza Howell Park, goldenrods now appear to be the preferred flower for adult feeding.

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The owl and the pussy-cat sailed to the land where the Bong-Tree grows and danced by the light of the moon. The beetle and the moth came to the park where goldenrods bloom and feed on nectar in the August sun. Bad poetry, but more accessible viewing.

Walk Among the Goldenrods: August 25, 2018

The goldenrods are coming. Not visible among the wildflowers at the July 14 nature walk, they can be expected to be at their blooming peak in the park in late August. And they can be expected to be attracting a variety of colorful insects.

The next Eliza Howell nature walk will feature goldenrods and the insects they attract. It will also provide an opportunity to observe other aspects of late summer nature in the park.

Anyone interested is welcome to join us in Eliza Howell Park for a guided walk among the flowers, especially the goldenrods, on Saturday, August  25, at 11:00 a.m. We will meet about halfway around the road loop from the Fenkell entrance. Clothing suitable for walking among tall plants is recommended. Stay as long or as briefly as desired. There will likely be a number of photo opportunities.

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Over the years, goldenrod has sometimes been mistakenly identified as the source of pollen that causes hay fever symptoms. The real culprit, however, is ragweed. Goldenrod beauty can be enjoyed up-close without breathing any pollen.

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These pictures were all taken in the second half of August, 2017.

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“Perhaps it is due to the fact that goldenrods peak when many insects are mature, or that the plants grow in clusters and groups, that they are the hub of insect activity. The plants literally buzz with bustling insects from dawn to dusk.” (Larry Weber, In a Patch of Goldenrods, 2016.)

Below are two examples of the insects seen among the Eliza Howell goldenrods in August 2017.

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Many pollinating insects, like wasps and bees, have the capacity to sting. As a result, some of us are understandably reluctant to walk too closely among the flowers that attract them. Some of us have had the experience of many times approaching closely to insects while they nectar on flowers, without ever having been stung, and have no hesitation getting close. Either approach is respected.

Among the other late summer developments that there will be an opportunity to observe on August 25 is the maturing Porcelain-berry.

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The turnout and enthusiasm at the July 14 nature walk led to the decision to have this second summer one on August 25. Feel free to spread the word.