Plants, Plants, Plants, (and a caterpillar or two)

Hey folks!

Last weekend was a very exciting couple days for me and everyone at BIO.  This was because of the much awaited Bioblitz! For those of you who have never heard of a Bioblitz, I will give you a bit of an explanation.  First you choose an area (this specific bioblitz was done in the Don Valley Watershed within the GTA ). Then you recruit as many people as you can to help out, usually through a volunteer basis (both scientists and non-scientists). You then split everyone in teams depending on what taxon they have expertise in such as mammals, fishes, lichens, birds, etc. Then finally, you sample the heck out of the place!

A lot of people from BIO volunteered for this event and helped out in many of the teams but most of us worked either on the terrestrial or aquatic invertebrate teams because that is where they could help out the best. I personally took a different route and decided to be on the plant team! I am going to tell you a little bit about my experience and show you some cool pics we took along the way!

This is the team at the end of the weekend looking a bit tired and wet. From left to right; James, Claire, and me!
This is the team at the end of the weekend looking a bit tired and wet. From left to right; James, Claire, and me!

My team consisted of James Kamstra, Claire Harvey, and myself. We were a small part of a much larger plant group that spread out over the watershed.  James was like a walking encyclopedia! There were only a few sedges he couldn’t rhyme off the Latin name to within a second of seeing it. I was pretty much in awe the whole time while I was writing down all the species we found.  Claire was fairly knowledgeable with her plants as well. I am somewhat of a beginner in plant identification so this was a huge learning experience for me. Our team covered Taylor Massey Creek.

This is the Dodder plant sucking the life out of a small shrub in a wet area!
This is the Dodder plant sucking the life out of a small shrub in a wet area!

We saw so many amazing plants, but one of the most interesting by far was Cuscuta epithymum, commonly known as Dodder. This plant is classified as parasitic! It is yellowish/orange and kind of looks like spaghetti, although it probably doesn’t taste the same.  It appears leafless because its leaves have evolved into small scales known as haustoria. The dodder plant grows up from the seed and attaches itself onto a plant in close proximity. It then abandons its own roots and starts entering the host plant through its haustoria and sucks out the host plant’s nutrients.  I guess the world of plants is pretty cut-throat!

Another notable story from our weekend was on the Sunday when we were identifying some sedges in a grassy wetland.  We were walking by a small willow shrub and noticed something hanging from it. It turned out to be a recently formed butterfly pupa. After a further inspection of the wetland, we saw them everywhere! We even found one of the caterpillars in a J-shape ready to start forming its pupa!  James confirmed that they were all Baltimore checkerspot butterflies and that they must have formed somewhat of a colony in the wetland.

On the left is the Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar about to start to form its pupa. On the right is a fully formed pupa, showing some amazing colouration.

The top photo is the Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar about to start to form its pupa. The bottom photo is a fully formed pupa, showing some amazing colouration.
The top photo is the Baltimore checkerspot caterpillar about to start to form its pupa. The bottom photo is a fully formed pupa, showing some amazing colouration.

All-in-all I had a great weekend with this crew and I will definitely be attending the next Ontario Bioblitz! For more information on bioblitzes you can check out http://www.ontariobioblitz.ca/. Please consider volunteering for the one next year along the Credit River. It is a great experience and I highly recommend it for anyone interested!

That is it for this installment! Next week I will be hopping on the BIObus and venturing to a few parks including Thousand Islands National Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, and Charleston Lake Provincial Park. I will make sure to share some pictures with you all when I get back! Before I leave you though, here is another great joke. How to trees get on the internet?……they log on!

As always, thanks for reading,

-Dan Engelking

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