Friday, July 18, 2008
Milkweed blooms in late June and July. The big drooping clusters of heavy, scented pink flowers attract a variety of butterflies and other insects – so if you have a sprained ankle, or
it’s too hot to go for a walk, just pull up a chair beside your milkweed, sit there, and see what comes. If you don’t have milkweed in your garden, sit in the Towle Field or even the Towle parking lot.
Here is some of what I saw on the milkweed in my yard over the past few days:
Butterflies. Milkweed is famous for its association with the Monarch Butterfly but I found the Monarch to be the rarest visitor among the butterflies. The most showy were the Great
Spangled Fritillaries which often paired up to chase the Monarch away. Other customers at the nectar bar included the Banded Hairstreak, the Mulberry-wing Skipper, and another unknown skipper.
Beetles. The Milkweed Beetle is a striking red beetle with black spots whose whole lifecycle is dependent on the milkweed. The Net-winged Beetle with its bold bands of black and orange markings is one of those which likes to visit but wouldn’t want to live there.
Moths. Many moths are nocturnal but I found five species that must either be diurnal or were getting home late from the previous night out. The black and white aptly named Small Magpie Moth seemed to be resting. The Grapeleaf Skeletonizer (which could just as easily be called the Virgina Creeper Skeletonizer because its caterpillars also feed there) was like a body-builder show-off. It spread its wings to expose its body and then flexed its muscles and curved its abdomen.
The Milkweed Tussock Moth lays masses of eggs and the caterpillars are gregarious. They would be kicked out of most all-you-can-eat buffets. From a photo I counted 194 caterpillars in a single tight ravenous group. They should have been named “skeletonizer.” My favorite moth visitors were the Plume Moths. They come to rest in a T-shape, and can be identified by their delicate feathery wings and spiny hind legs.
Food for all. The Tussock Moth Caterpillars and Monarch Caterpillars have developed a non-competing strategy in which the hordes of Tussocks eat large older leaves and the Monarchs (fewer in number) take the small young leaves.
For species that don’t eat greens and whose mothers don’t let them drink at nectar bars, there was plenty of meat. In the predator department I saw an assassin bug and two kinds of spider.
Others. The species I could count on seeing at almost any time of day every day were honey bees and bumble bees on the flowers, and little black ants and daddy longlegs on the leaves. Other residents and visitors were the Candy-striped Leaf-hopper in both the nymph and adult stages, earwigs, red and black milkweed bugs, and several species of little colorful flies. ∆
All photos by Kay Fairweather
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito