Tom Mason has travelled to almost every continent in the world. He has worked in Vietnam, Trinidad, Cuba, Panama and Costa Rica, where he helped set up the Caño Palma Biological Station, designed and built butterfly gardens and led tours. Back home, he has helped several endangered-species recovery programs and has worked at the Toronto Zoo as a curator of birds and invertebrates.
In his retirement, Tom spends time surveying butterflies and spiders across Ontario and takes part in the Ontario BioBlitz, which he helped create. He also helps the recovery efforts of some of Ontario’s rare butterflies. Outside Canada he searches for reptiles and amphibians, and in the summer he creates wildlife habitats in his backyard and helps out at local shows as an animal-welfare expert.
Every year in August I search for one of my favourite spiders, the banded argiope. In the fall the adults die off, leaving silken egg sacs, and from May onward the spiderlings build webs, eat insects and grow. By August the tiny males, only one-tenth the size of mature females, look for mates. Once mated, the females eat and lay egg sacs until the weather finally stops them.
Cluster flies spend all summer outside, laying eggs in the soil, where the maggots predate earthworms. Come fall, the adults seek shelter for the winter, under bark, in rock crevices or in a nice, warm house—the perfect refuge. Cluster flies don’t do anything but buzz around in sunny spots or gather in south-facing windows to bask in the heat. They’re a nuisance but they’re harmless.
This summer you may get the chance to see Ontario’s largest butterfly. Flying from May to the end of September, the giant swallowtail tends to be larger than the more common eastern tiger swallowtail. A common species in the tropical Americas, the giant swallowtail ventures all the way up to Southern Ontario but goes no farther. Most often seen sipping nectar from flowers, they roam the area looking for hop trees or prickly ashes, on which they like to lay eggs. To keep them around, plant a hop tree in your yard. Check out a local garden in the area—you just might be lucky enough to see one.
The Wandering Glider
Found in open fields or over still water, the wandering glider dragonfly is uncommon here. Breeding in rain pools during the summer, the glider migrates south in the fall. The large surface area of its wings and its ability to feed in flight help it travel vast distances. It can fly to and live on almost any continent, making it the world’s most evolved dragonfly.
The European Hornet
Last summer I heard a tremendous buzz in my backyard. I looked up and saw the largest hornet I had ever seen—a queen European hornet. Introduced to North America in the mid-nineteenth century, this hornet is much larger than any of our native species and can grow up to 35 millimetres. Known as “gentle giants,” they tend to be pacific unless their nests are attacked, and their stings aren’t as potent as honey bees’ stings. They’re also super predators, eating other wasps, flies and crop pests.
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