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I found the cicada struggling to mount a leaf, clawing feebly at the smooth surface. It had somehow survived the avian gauntlet, but death would come soon one way or another. Elsewhere in the patch, stray wings of less fortunate cicadas were scattered about, looking very much like transparent maple keys.
Few plants offer as many opportunites for arthropod watching when they aren’t in bloom as the large-leaved and aromatic Collinsonia canadensis. I’ve always referred to this plant simply as “horsebalm,” but apparently that name has been applied to other members of the Collinsonia genus as well, along with “stoneroot”; I should be calling it Canada horsebalm to be more specific, or better yet, richweed. Though prized by herbalists, and once an important medicine to the Iroquois and Cherokee, for us it’s mostly just a nice, citronella-scented plant that’s fun to point out to tour groups on hikes up the hollow — we always like to add an olofactory element to our tours. In another month or so it’ll send up spikes of yellow flowers, but why is it so popular with the six- and eight-legged crowd now? From what I could see, simply because its large, horizontal leaves help with thermoregulation: where they intersect with short-lived sunbeams in the otherwise cool forest, they’re great places to sunbathe.
Needless to say, this is a (semi-) macro photographer’s dream. Most of the woods is simply too dark to take photos without a tripod; I’m pretty much limited to snapping what’s in the sun. And since it was a cool morning, the insects were in no hurry to move on. But as usual, my attention was drawn as much to the stage set as to the actors: the shifting patterns of sun and shade, the color and texture of the leaves.
I wasn’t the only one drawn by the concentration of insect life. A funnel spider had set up shop, curling a leaf into a lemon-fresh lair of death. A
n assassin bug squash bug* seemed less interested in stalking prey than in feeding on a bird dropping. When I came in too close with the lens, it circled to the other side of its prize and assumed that pugilistic pose so typical of its kind. And a pair of harvestmen — or a harvestman and a harvestwoman, as the case may be — seemed most interested in each other. For the entire half-hour I was there, they stood face-to-face, barely moving except for their long front legs, which met and circled like foils in the world’s slowest fencing match.
I think I’ll be calling it richweed from now on.
*See comment by Rebecca Clayton below.
Flickr slideshow created following the very helpful instructions of Paul Stamatiou.