July is quite an exciting time at Fresh Pond. Many people enjoy the warm, sunny days by strolling or jogging around the reservation. The beginning of the summer also comes with sudden and short, heavy rainfalls. On one Monday afternoon, we got caught in a torrential downpour. We patiently waited for the rain to subside, taking shelter under a tree. It did not last long, and with the last drops, we ventured out onto the transect path that we survey every week for arthropods. We did not expect to see much, assuming that the insects would be hiding out of sight, but we were quite wrong! We saw all sorts of life: dragonflies staying put getting ready to take flight, aphids sheltering just below the petals of false sunflowers, hoppers hiding among sepals and bracts, and bumblebees latching onto the underside of leaves. We were reminded that, even in survey conditions that are not ideal, there is never a dull moment in the field!
“Now more than ever, with our planet facing issues such as biodiversity loss, I think it’s time to give back to nature and the ecosystems that exist within it. The first steps toward change are education and awareness-- knowing exactly what the problems are before you try to solve them.”
Lucy focused her EwA summer internship on local scale ecology, as well as participated in large-scale research and conversations about the environment. She worked on a site-specific ecological almanac (at the Fresh Pond Reservoir in Cambridge Massachusetts) documenting insects and plants throughout the season, as well as collaborated with citizen scientists in the field. Enjoy Lucy's summer Fresh Pond almanac!
EwA citizen scientists and interns survey the Lusitania meadow 📍 for arthropods every single week during the warm seasons. This gives us the opportunity to get to know the meadow intimately. Each week highlights different relationships between the plants and their ‘wild’ visitors as fascinating stories unfold. This almanac is a wonderful means to share what we observe and record at Lusitania with our communities.
📅 You can usually find us at the meadow weekly on Mondays (unless it rains). Check also our Eventbrite and join us in experiencing the magic of this wonderful meadow—an oasis in the middle of a very busy city.
July is the true peak of summer, with temperatures heating up during the approximately 15 hours of brilliant sunshine a day. These are arguably the best days of the season. While many people enjoy the sun, other species do as well, as revealed by the rich ecological activity at Fresh Pond this time of year. When surveying the meadow, we witnessed so much life rapidly transforming from week to week. This is a month when we record a lot of phenological changes, such as spider eggs hatching, beetles transitioning from larvae to pupa to adults, and plants developing with the assistance of pollinators. Towards the end of July, temperatures in New England climb to record highs. On average, the temperature reaches a peak of 24°C (75°F) daily and sometimes well exceeds this average. In July 2020, the temperature in the Boston area reached a scorching high of 35°C (95°F). In addition, there is typically a significant amount of rainfall in the area during this month, aside from last year, which was a drought year for us. July 2020 received only 5.33 cm (2.10 inches) of rain, which is less than half of what the region experienced the year before.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is an herbaceous plant with vibrant eye-catching pink or purple flowers. It belongs to the Asclepias genus, alongside common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). In addition to being visually appealing, the flowers of swamp milkweed excite other senses. They have a distinct scent, similar to that of vanilla. Swamp milkweed grows to be relatively tall, ranging from 0.6 to 1.20 meters (two to four feet) in height. Besides its distinct flowers, it can also be recognized by its opposite growing leaves and its rigid seed pods. The plant thrives in low-lying, moist, and sunny areas.
The Visitors of Swamp Milkweed
Swamp milkweed is a larval host plant for many insect species. At Fresh Pond, it hosts the caterpillars of the illustrious monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) that feeds on the foliage of the plant.
Swamp milkweed is a significant nectar provider for the red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) and several members of the skipper butterfly family, including the least skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor) and the silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus). The plant’s nectar also attracts other insects, including flies, bees, and wasps, such as the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).
Thanks to its vibrant color and pleasing scent, swamp milkweed is a common destination for many different pollinators. Bumblebees (Bombus species), for instance, are regular visitors of the milkweed’s inflorescences. These busy and fairly large bees play an important role in the pollination of the plant, often transferring pollinia–a cluster of pollen grains–from one milkweed plant to the next. At Fresh Pond, the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) and brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis) may be the swamp milkweed’s primary pollinators. Other important pollinators that you may spot on a hot summer day are sweat bees, like the Augochlora sweat bee (Callistochlora chloris) and the bicolored striped sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens), honey bees, and leafcutter bees, such as the flat-tailed leafcutter bee (Megachile mendica). You may also catch sight of hoverflies (Syrhphidae family)–flies that look like small bees but aren’t.
The lupine also plays an important role as a larval host plant. One of the species that uses lupine as a larval host is the orange sulphur (Colias eurytheme) butterfly. You may be lucky enough to spot this colorful butterfly fluttering around Fresh Pond in June!
🔎 Nature Quest » Searching for minuscule eggs
July is a period of heightened activity and ecological change at Fresh Pond. During several site visits, I spotted a variety of insect and arachnid eggs, often located on the underside of plant leaves! These hidden treasures can be quite exciting to find. I spotted the larger egg (pictured in the photo on the far right), which is likely a spider egg, under the leaf of a black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) tree.
Look under leaves and along the stems of wildflowers, you may spot a few tiny eggs.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Another plant that you can spot growing abundantly at Fresh Pond is Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Invasive to Massachusetts, Queen Anne’s lace is a member of the carrot family. The plant typically grows up to 0.6 to 0.9 meters (two to three feet) tall and easily adapts to different soil and moisture conditions. Its leaves are small and fern-like, allowing for minimal herbivory. It can be recognized easily by its small white flowers, which grow flat and spread out in umbrella-like clusters. There is often a small purple floret in the middle of each umbel, the purpose of which has been debated. Many people used to believe that it served as a visual indicator to attract pollinators, however, this theory was disproved by a 1996 study that revealed that pollinators did not show a preference for plants with a central floret over those without.
Queen Anne’s Lace Visitors
Queen Anne’s lace is a wildly popular plant for pollinators. An estimated 200-300 species of insects visit the plant to pollinate it. At Fresh Pond, several beetle species visit this wildflower, including the slender flower longhorn beetle (Strangalia famelica) and the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica). Many bees pollinate the plant, including the common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) and the western honey bee (Apis mellifera), while bumblebees occasionally feed the pollen to their larvae. Other species pollinate the plant, such as the smokey-winged beetle bandit wasp (Cerceris fumipennis), the carrot seed moth (Sitochroa palealis), the thick-legged hoverfly (Syritta pipiens), and various ant and butterfly species.
Beyond pollination, some insects predate on Queen Anne’s lace. Green lacewings, lady beetles, and ambush bugs dwell on the plant while awaiting their prey. These insects can be observed at the reservation, including the fourteen-spotted lady beetle (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata), the Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), and the Pennsylvania ambush bug (Phymata pennsylvanica). Spiders can also regularly be found lurking within the flower. If you peek inside, you may spot an American green crab spider (Misumessus oblongus) or a jumping spider waiting for its prey.
This is just a glimpse into the activity that can be seen at Fresh Pond during the month of July. There is plenty more to see beyond the plants and insects. Look up in the skies to see the activities of a wide variety of birds, possibly even the mobbing of Lusitania meadow’s resident red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Look down and you may catch a glimpse of brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) foraging among the grasses that surround the swampy area of the meadow. Wander closer to the water and you may be lucky enough to spot an American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) hopping about.
Enjoy your visit. 📅 Join our Plants and Wildlife Documentation Walks. Share your findings with us (you can comment below)!
EwA Useful Links
📖 The Book of Swamp & Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (1995) by John Eastman (Author), Amelia Hansen (Illustrator)
July, 9th 2021 | by Lucy Janovitz
Layout and editing: Claire O’Neill. The banner photo is of a blue dasher (iNat record). The photos in this article are visual records that the EwA team has collected at their Middlesex county study sites. Click on the picture, and you’ll land on the record and its owner (records shown in this article are from © Claire O’Neill). Photos are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC). See EwA’s biodiversity occurrence records specific to this place in the EwA at Fresh Pond iNaturalist project.
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