Despite their small size, insects and spiders, or “arthropods,” play a vital role in nearly every ecosystem on Earth.
Tiny but vital, insects and spiders are pollinators, pest control, decomposers, and food for birds and mammals at the bird sanctuary. Pollinators like bees, wasps, and butterflies trigger fruit and seed production in plants, decomposers like ants and flies break down dead plant and animal matter, and predators like spiders, dragonflies, and some wasps control other arthropod populations. Last but not least, nearly all arthropods can be food sources for a hungry bird or mammal.
Here are some of the many insects that have visited our site and, below them, two spider species.
Docile and fuzzy pollinators, Eastern Bumble Bees are the most common bumble bee in the sanctuary. Look for them buzzing around blooming flowers in the sanctuary on warm, sunny days.
Cicada Killers are big, but won’t hurt humans unless they’re grabbed. Stingless males use aggressive flying to scare off competition and predators, and females are only interested in finding a good burrow spot and hunting cicadas to feed their young.
One of a group of insects known as ‘true bugs’, the Milkweed Bug undergoes incomplete metamorphosis and is an excellent example of warning, or ‘aposematic’, coloration. Its bold red-and-black patterning warns predators that it is foul-tasting or toxic.
Known for its brilliant coloration and lengthy migration, the monarch butterfly is a frequent visitor to the sanctuary from May through early September. Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, but adults will feed from liatris, bee balm, goldenrod, thistle, milkweed flowers, and many kinds of asters..
Mantises are incredibly efficient ambush predators,. They wait, hidden amongst the leaves, and snap up unwary prey with their specialized, lightning-quick front legs. They’re unique amongst insects for being able to turn their heads much as humans do.
The Red Admiral, so named for the bold stripes of red crossing its forewings, is one of the earliest visitors to the sanctuary. Look for them basking in patches of sunlight, feeding on tree sap or fallen, overripe fruit, and sometimes visiting milkweed, aster, or liatris flowers.
Many people initially mistake this fuzzy brown beetle for a bumble bee thanks to its stocky build and dizzy flying. The Bumble Flower Beetle is both a pollinator and a decomposer-- the grub feeds on decaying plants, and the adult visits both flowers and damaged or rotten fruit.
The Cellophane Bee is one of the earliest pollinators to emerge in the sanctuary, and gets its name from the natural plastic the female uses to line her burrow. The males may look spooky as they hover en masse over the females’ burrows, but in fact they’re quite harmless.
Though they may be intimidatingly large, only females of this wasp can sting. They also tend to be docile unless their underground nest is threatened. Look for these beauties on horsemint plants in the sanctuary-- at just the right angle on a sunny day, their glossy wings flash a luminous blue.
These docile spiders like to be near water and can often be found on the Clark Street Beach House. They rebuild their classic spoked spiral webs every night and play an important role in controlling flying insects.
Often just as inquisitive as the humans looking at them, Putnam Jumping Spiders are a harmless species of jumping spider. In fact, they can leap four to five times their body length! Rather than make a web, they build a home base with silk and curled-up leaves, and then wander the area searching for prey.