by P.M. Catling and B. Kostiuk
This article appeared originally in the fall 2015 issue of Trail & Landscape
On Saturday, 27 September 2014, twenty OFNC members gathered to participate in an OFNC outing organized to help gather information for the Constance Bay Biothon (Fig. 1). The area of interest here is centred on the Torbolton Sandhills (Constance Bay Sandhills). This Biothon is an ambitious new initiative launched by the OFNC Conservation Committee. It is like a bioblitz but instead of lasting for a day or a weekend, it is an inventory of flora and fauna that lasts for a year. Activities and excursions are planned around the event to provide education, especially for children, and to raise awareness of adults. The Constance Bay Biothon is expected to be the first of a number of biothons planned for natural areas around Ottawa.
The outing began at 10 a.m. with warm (22-24°C) sunny weather which lasted all day. Julia Cipriani, Chair of the OFNC Events Committee, welcomed the participants. Nets were distributed to the children and some adults. In this case collecting did not have a negative impact because, at the late date of the outing, adult grasshoppers had already mated and laid eggs and were soon to die. The group proceeded southeast of the recreation centre toward the clearing, collecting and talking along the way. The history of the area was described, followed by a brief discussion of the known grasshopper fauna and the books and guides that are useful in understanding it.
It was noted that the high sandy deposits that form the peninsula of Constance Bay are unusual in the immediate area and were formed by deposition in and around the postglacial Champlain Sea about 10,000 years ago. In pre-settlement times, the area was mostly covered by scrub (low shrubs and grass) with scattered oaks, Jack Pines, and White Pines, as well as areas of open sand (Catling et al. 2010). There were also areas of more or less open, pine-oak forest. This was an unusual habitat in the lower Ottawa Valley, where beech-maple-hemlock-pine forests prevailed on the drier sites.
Open habitats including sand, scrub, and open woods, were not common in eastern Ontario, and most have now been destroyed. The open habitat of the Sandhills was extensively planted with pine and spruce in the 1950s, and it declined to a fraction of a percentage of its former extent soon after as the tree plantings developed into a dense evergreen forest (Fig. 2). This would not have happened without planting young trees because the seedlings would not have survived in the harsh and competitive environment. Although there were other sandy, open habitats in the Ottawa Valley, few have the remarkably high diversity and occurrence of rare species that is characteristic of Constance Bay (Catling and Brunton 2010). There has been an attempt to restore biodiversity on some open sandy sites in the Ottawa Valley (see work on the Pinhey Dune, Catling and Kostiuk 2013), and an impressive restoration also exists in the Torbolton Sandhills on the Constance Bay peninsula (Catling and Kostiuk 2010).
Grasshoppers and their relatives are largely a tropical group with 35,000 species worldwide. There are approximately 370 grasshoppers and related insects in Canada. In eastern Canada (Ontario eastwards), there are approximately 160 and in the eastern part of southern Ontario, there are about 93. In the Constance Bay area, 32 have been recorded (Table 1). Two that require open, sandy habitats may be extirpated and a few others may yet be discovered. The list is based on observations of the authors and specimens in the Canadian National Collection of Insects (CNCI) as well as those seen on the outing. All of the literature aimed at grasshopper identification is somewhat technical. We used Vickery and Kevan (1985), with help from a few other sources (Bland 2003, Capinera et al. 2004, Otte 1981, Vickery 1991). Some crickets and katydids can be identified by their songs and a useful online source is Walker (2014) which includes references and identification aids as well as songs. Another important online source is the Orthoptera Species File Online (Eades et al. 2015) which provides generally accepted common and scientific names as well as images and distributional information.
The children present made a great contribution in collecting specimens with cotton sweep nets or mesh nets. Captured specimens were placed in jars and passed around so that everyone could have a good look. A very young Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitom aculata) was also examined by the group. Local resident Hank Jones explained the conservation efforts currently underway to secure the biodiversity of Torbolton Sandhills (see Friends of Torbolton Hills on Facebook).
The highlights of the grasshopper survey were two band-winged grasshoppers: Mottled Sand Grasshopper (Fig. 3) and the Boll’s Grasshopper (Fig. 4), both of which are rare in the region and occupy very small areas of open habitat in the Constance Bay area (see details in the annotated list). The children found a number of Grizzly Grasshoppers which feed on pine needles, unlike other local grasshoppers which feed on grasses or forbs. By 2 p.m. when the group returned to the parking area, 14 species had been recorded. The leaders with Bill Carson and Jacob Mueller carried on along a trail to the northwest and added two more species to the list which had not been recorded in the area, at least not recently. These were the Sprinkled Broad-winged Grasshopper and the Granulated Grouse Grasshopper. The total number for the day was 16 (marked with an asterisk in Table 1).
The work gathered useful information on the species present and indicated an impressive grasshopper fauna. It also suggested that part of the Constance Bay grasshopper fauna may be in a precarious position due to isolation of restricted and declining habitats. However, the fauna may be recovered by more restoration efforts (Fig. 5). Since grasshoppers are a useful indicator group, this also applies to other fauna and flora (see text box).
Bland, R.G. 2003. The Orthoptera of Michigan —biology, keys, and descriptions of grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-2815. 220 pp.
Capinera, J.L., R.D . Scott, and T.J. Walker. 2004. Field guide to grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets of the United States. Cornell University Press. 249 pp.
Catling, P.M. and B. Kostiuk. 2010. Successful re-establishment of a native savannah flora and fauna on the site of a former pine plantation at Constance Bay, Ottawa, Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 124(2):169-178.
Catling, P.M. and B. Kostiuk. 2013. Community Conservation, SOS-Dunes—they have saved a dune and have a plan! T&L 47(2):72-78.
Catling, P.M. and D.F. Brunton. 2010. Some notes on the biodiversity of the Constance Bay Sandhills. T&L 44(3): 123-130.
Catling, P.M., K.W. Spicer and D.F. Brunton. 2010. The history of the Constance Bay Sandhills—decline of a biodiversity gem in the Ottawa valley. T&L 44(3):106-122.
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Otte, D . 1981. The North American Grasshoppers, vol. 1. Acrididae, Gomphocerinae and Acridinae. Harvard University Press. 275 pp.
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Walker, T.J. 2014. Singing insects of North America. Accessed: 01/10/2014.