Category: Arthropods

Yellow Lady Slipper, named after Aphrodite’s slipper was in full bloom in Banff National Park last weekend.

Yellow_Greater_Lady_Slipper_spider_WM[1]I’ve spent countless hours hiking and exploring off trail areas in Banff and this was the first time I have come across this stunning orchid in the park. These orchids are common throughout Canada but are becoming harder to find in certain areas as more people illegally pick the flowers, collect the seeds or try to transplant the entire plant to their backyards. Since this orchid relies on several highly specialized soil fungi to survive, transplants or trying to grow them from seed are rarely if ever successful. Plus few people have the patience to wait over 7 years for the plant to mature enough to produce flowers.

For those that aren’t terrified of spiders, have a closer look and you will see a crab spider, which relies on stealth and potent venom rather than a web to ambush and paralyze their prey. Pollinating insects have to climb into the goddess of love’s slipper to get to the pollen, making these flowers perfect hunting grounds for these spiders. This little spider had just caught lunch when I came across the plant.

Aerial Acrobat

It took a bit of luck and a lot of patience but eventually I got a few pictures of this dragonfly (I believe it’s a paddle tailed darner) that I was happy with.


Silvery blue butterflies mating aspen sapling WMA female (closer and in focus) and male silvery blue butterfly have an intimate moment as they try to pretend to be aspen leaves! Eggs are laid singly and from this point on their adopted parents and bodyguards are ants!  The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the young tree leaves. The ants protect the larvae from predators and parasitic wasps and as compensation for this protection the larvae feed the ants a sugary concoction known as honeydew.  The honeydew isn’t given up easily by the larvae. It’s only when the ant climbs onto the back of the larvae and uses its antenna to stroke the larvae’s hairs  that the honeydew is secreted! Overwintering occurs in a chrysalis where they transform into a butterfly and emerge in the spring to repeat the whole process.

Buzz off!

Predator or Prey wolf mosquito watermark

Let’s continue to ease back into the winter photography. Here is one from my bank of images taken in the summer.

The predator and prey roles are reversed when a ‘pack’ of hungry mosquitoes descends down on a wolf. They are mostly kept at bay by the thick coat, but just like when a wolf goes in for a kill, the mosquitoes hone in on the most vulnerable spots where their prey is less likely to be able to defend itself.

The wolf didn’t seem to be too bothered. I on the other hand was cursing at them under my breath.  The welts that I soon developed and the itching that happened for days afterwards was a small price to pay.

It almost makes me appreciate the long mosquito free winters. Almost!

Another photo from the vault. This was a few years ago in Jasper National Park. A goldenrod crab spider, which is an ambush predator, managed to catch a much larger bumble bee when it visited a chive flower to collect nectar. The spider hides under or adjacent to flowers and waits for a pollinating insect to come by. You would think that the bee would be able to fly away in time, but the spider is very quick and has powerful, fast acting venom which is injected into the prey to paralyze it. The spider holds on while the venom takes effect and then devours its meal as is. No web making required.

Last year was a very wet summer in southern Alberta and the result was a lot more insects. I have been trying for years to get photos of dragonflies in flight but they are so quick and their flight so erratic that I never managed to get a photo I was happy with. After going down to the shore of a pond to photograph a moose I noticed what seemed like hundreds of dragonflies flying around.  Each dragonfly seemed to have a defined aerial territory that it would defend against if another dragonfly entered it’s airspace.  After chasing off the invaders they would return to the same general area to hover and wait.  After watching the same dragonfly for some time I figured out where along the shore I should sit to have the best chance of photographing it while it was hovering.  One afternoon and hundreds of photographs later I managed to get a few I liked. This photo was taken with the pond and clouds reflecting in the water behind the dragonfly. As for the type of dragonfly, it is either a paddle-tailed or lancet-tipped darner.  Apparently you can ID them based on the tail anatomy but unless you find a dead one it’s pretty hard identifying them in flight even with still photographs.

I took this photo last summer in Banff National Park along the 1A highway. I’m not sure what the flower is but the bumble bee certainly liked it. It went from flower to flower for well over 10 minutes.



A common spider that apparently can change from yellow to white depending on what colour of flower the spider is on.  This on must have been colour blind.  These spiders hide under flowers until wasps or bees come to feed and then they are ambushed by the spider which bites the prey and injects venom that paralyzes the prey.  (They aren’t poisonous to people)


One of the largest dragonflies with a ‘cigar’ shaped abdomen.  This one was trying to warm up after the morning frost had melted.