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.