This year Julia and I decided to take a break from traveling and—for once—experience our yard through all the seasons without missing anything. Given the stay-at-home orders of late, and my almost complete lack of employment opportunities as a result, it looks like we picked the right year for it! Since 2013 I have been haphazardly keeping lists of the flora and fauna on our property (which includes our yard as well as several acres of seepy woods that were logged just before we moved here). The tallies currently stand at 239 vascular plant species, 130 vertebrates, and 742 invertebrates. If I had been making this a priority, these numbers would not be at all impressive; people who regularly set up lights in their yards at night to attract moths have counted 7-800 or more species, and that’s just one insect order.
I have no plans to attempt a complete all-taxa biodiversity inventory of our property, but I did think it would be fun to see how many species of leafminers I can find in the yard in one year, and to make an effort to notice when each species first makes an appearance. Since I’ve started work on a guide to sawfly larvae, I’m going to try to keep track of them too, although I won’t be able to put names on them right away. And while I’m keeping tabs on all the plants to see what bugs are eating them, I’m curious to see how many species of plants I can find to eat in my yard over the course of a year (both wild and cultivated).
Well, leafminer season of course begins on January 1, since I’ve got larvae of both Argyresthia thuiella (Argyresthiidae) and Coleotechnites thujaella (Gelechiidae) overwintering in the arborvitae hedge along the road. A few weeks ago, adults of Chrysoesthia sexguttella (Gelechiidae) started showing up in our hoop house—here’s one I found clinging to some lambsquarters (Amaranthaceae: Chenopodium album) I was picking yesterday for our breakfast omelet:
Larval mines of this species were extremely abundant on the maple-leaved goosefoot (Chenopodiastrum simplex) in our hoop house last July, so I’m not surprised to see all these adults now.
And last week while weeding the Japanese pachysandra out of one of our wildflower/shrub gardens, I found two species of moth larvae mining basal leaves of heart-leaved aster (Asteraceae: Symphyotrichum cordifolium). Landryia impositella (Scythrididae) makes blotch mines that have no frass inside, because when not feeding it retreats to a web spun on the underside of the leaf.
The adults will appear in June. Evidently this species overwinters either as eggs or young larvae.
The other miner in the heart-leaved aster was Bucculatrix staintonella (Bucculatricidae). It makes linear mines with frass deposited in a central line.
The above photo was taken on January 6 last year—I collected the leaf on January 1. So clearly this species overwinters as a larva, thawing out and feeding whenever it’s warm enough. As with Landryia impositella, adults of Bucculatrix staintonella appear in June.
So that’s five species of leaf-mining moth found in my yard this year as of April 7. No sawfly larvae yet, although in our seepy woods there are leaf-mining larvae of Metallus ochreus (Tenthredinidae) that have overwintered in leaves of dewberry (Rosaceae: Rubus hispidus). A few days ago I started seeing adults of what I presume are Dolerus species, whose larvae feed on grasses and horsetails. Here’s one from April 2015:
And how many different plants have I eaten from my yard so far this spring? Let’s see…
- Jerusalem artichoke (Asteraceae: Helianthus tuberosus) – tubers
- Oxeye daisy (Asteraceae: Leucanthemum vulgare) – leaves
- Common dandelion (Asteraceae: Taraxacum officinale) – leaves, flowerbuds
- Common plantain (Plantaginaceae: Plantago major) – leaves
- Common chickweed (Caryophyllaceae: Stellaria media) – leaves
- Stinging nettle (Urticaceae: Urtica dioica) – leaves
- Chives (Amaryllidaceae: Allium schoenoprasum) – leaves
- Leeks (Amaryllidaceae: Allium ampeloprasum) – leaves
- Evening primrose (Onagraceae: Oenothera biennis) – leaves
- Lambsquarters (Amaranthaceae: Chenopodium album) – leaves
- Miner’s lettuce (Montiaceae: Claytonia perfoliata) – leaves
- Spinach (Amaranthaceae: Spinacia oleracea) – leaves
- Lettuce (Asteraceae: Lactuca sativa) – leaves
- Curly dock (Polygonaceae: Rumex crispus) – leaves
- Common wood-sorrel (Oxalidaceae: Oxalis stricta) – leaves
- Kale (Brassicaceae: Brassica oleracea) – leaves
- Heart-leaved aster (Asteraceae: Symphyotrichum cordifolium) – leaves
- Common blue violet (Violaceae: Viola sororia) – leaves
- Ground ivy (Lamiaceae: Glechoma hederacea) – leaves
- Oregano (Lamiaceae: Origanum vulgare) – leaves
- Thyme (Lamiaceae: Thymus vulgaris) – leaves
Most of these are just nibbles at this point, rather than constituting a large part of a meal, but it’s a wider array of menu options than I expected to find in my yard when spring has just barely started here on our mountain near the Massachusetts / New Hampshire border. More coming soon, no doubt!