As the wildflower bed in the front yard begins to mature, the pollinators have come in droves. I really enjoyed getting to know the members of the Hesperiidae (skipper butterflies) this year. Although suburbia seems to support only a few species, their numbers were great in my yard. Most of these are considered “grass skippers” due to their host plant needs. It makes sense that these species would do well in a suburban area with plenty of flowering natives. Most grass skippers will use zoysia and Bermuda grass as host plants. I hate to think how many larvae get destroyed in the neighborhood each season with the relentless lawn mowing.
These first three photos are the sachem (Atalopedes campestris). This is a very common species in the yard and they seem to have a very long flight season. I noticed they come in a variety of shades and patterns that can make identifying them a bit troublesome.
Next up is the overlooked beauty but common Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius). Along with the sachem, this guy was common for most of the flowering season.
The final skipper from the yard is a favorite among anyone who cares to notice skippers. The brilliant fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus). Although I found a scattered few in May, June and July, they seem to have a little later season than the others. I found them in the tens in August and September.
If you want to have lots of skippers, I highly recommend planting asters in thegenus Symphyotrichum. This will attract skippers and many other insect pollinators who need these plants.
Finally, I found a very interesting solitary bee that was feeding on the Asclepias tuberosa that was blooming in the glade garden that installed around our mailbox this past May. This is a male carpenter-mimic leafcutter bee (Megachile xylocopoides).
In the spring of 2021, I finally put up a couple of nest boxes in the yard of the new house. Both boxes were built and gifted by my father, Bart Duncan. Much appreciation! One box was designed specifically for bluebirds and a pair quickly staked their claim. They had an initial successful clutch, fledging three chicks, but on the next attempt, tragedy struck. During my monitoring visit, where there had been four half-developed chicks the day before I found not a single one. I believe the neighborhood racoons made a meal of them sometime during the night, leaving no evidence. It was early enough in the year that I wasn’t surprised that the pair tried again, but what surprised me was that they did not build a nest in the bluebird box, but used a box that was designed for Carolina Wrens that was bolted to the side of our screen porch. It made for some great photo opportunities that I am sharing here. I learned from my mistakes and have installed a baffle around the pole to the bluebird box along with a wire cage over the nest entrance. If a brood predator wants to get at them now they will really have to try hard. I am happy to say that to date, in the 2022 season, the pair successfully fledged two clutches – one of six and one of five chicks. Eleven new bluebirds this year, flooding the subdivision with bluebirds!
While searching for arthropod subjects to photograph on Steve’s property, we decided to check the compost/midden pile and found something completely unexpected.
These beetles were crazy to watch – super speedy while flipping their gold-tipped abdomens over their backs in display. These guys yield even more support to my contention that the vast majority of ideas used in the sci-fi genre (particularly the creature-features) were taken from somewhere within the natural world.
This tiny and speedy ichneumon wasp, which I am calling a Theronia species, has been hanging around my patch of wild strawberries for a couple of months. If I am close to correct in the identification (with more than 100,000 described ichneumons, how close could I be?), then this species parasitize tent caterpillars along with a number of other lepidopterans.
“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars …”
The Leafcutter Bees are an interesting group of native solitary bees found within the Megachilidae Family along with Mason Bees, Resin Bees and Carder Bees. There are approximately 200 species of Leafcutter Bees (Megachile genus) found in North America and several of these species can be easily found in gardens throughout the eastern United States where they favor the plant families Asteraceae, Campanulaceae and Fabaceae.
Leafcutter Bees get their names from an obvious behavior. These bees line their chosen nest cavities (stems, cracks, wood-boring beetle borings, holes of all kinds) with circular discs that they cut from green leaves or flower petals. When a cavity has been sufficiently lined, the bee will deposit an egg along with a provision of nectar and pollen, afterward abandoning the nest.
Bees in this family are abdominal pollen collectors, as can be seen in the photo above. Unlike most bees that hold pollen in brushes on their legs, the Megachilidae hold their pollen on the underside of their abdomens that consist of course, unbranched hairs that curves towards the tail.
A diagnostic behavior of the Leafcutter Bee is their habit of extending their abdomen vertically while they forage. I have not been able to find an accepted reason that they do this.
This is a group of native insects that anyone can help in their own backyard. Consider making, purchasing and installing nesting structures for your native pollinating bees. It’s quite easy to do and will help out a lot in suburban where natural sites for nests are often hard to find.
Tonight’s post all share a theme of the challenges of being a pollinator on prairie wildflowers. The first photo above shows a lovely-colored, ambush predator known as a Crab Spider. Crab Spiders do not spin webs, but lay in wait, often on a flower for a pollinator to visit.
This Assassin Bug has captured a syrphid fly and is having himself a meal.
In the image above, this goldenrod flower came to life to ambush a Honeybee. I find that Honeybees are the most often caught in traps like this. Native bees seem to be constantly on the move and much more defensive, most likely due to the fact that they are solitary and there would be nobody to care for the brood if they were more care free like the honeybees.
The creature is actually called an Ambush Bug. What an interesting face this one has! I can imagine the potential conversation.
Finally, this gigantic Robberfly is finishing off some small prey.
I finally found a monarch caterpillar on one of my plants after a 3-4 year absence. Knowing the poor success rate when I had them in the yard in previous years, I decided to try my hand at rearing this one inside. I read a little on proper practices online and had received some advice from someone I work with (thanks Tim!) and watched as the little one put on the weight at the expense of my common milkweed I harvested from the garden. Unfortunately the idea for a time lapse project came too late and . I wasn’t prepared and wasn’t knowledgeable enough about the metamorphosis process. I tried my best. I made several mistakes and will hopefully remember these next time. I also had a couple of equipment failures that caused me to miss a couple of gaps many hours in length. Tim and his family have successfully reared and released a good number of monarchs this year and tag them for hopeful data points on the migratory routes (just like in birds). He had an extra tag and I tagged the little female prior to her release. Hopefully she will make it the ~1800 miles from central Missouri to central Mexico where she will overwinter before heading back north again next spring.
Even with the problems, I kind of like the outcome. I can’t wait to try again… 😉
The Redbud Bruchid (Gibbobruchis mimus), as its name suggests, is one of those perfect examples of insect-plant specialization. The larvae of this species will only grow on the seeds of Redbud trees and perhaps on those of a relative or two.
Being extremely small (2.5 – 3 mm), these cute guys are quite the challenge to photograph. Adults feed on plant tissues (flower petals, pollen, nectar, etc…) and I typically have seen them feeding on my Echinacea flowers.
The guy above can be seen creating or adding to a hole in a flower petal. I much prefer them to the exotic invasive Japanese Beetles that tend to leave nothing behind.
The Bruchids are a subfamily or “tribe” found within the quite large family – the Chrysomelidae, known as “Leaf Beetles”.
If you know the size of an individual blossom of the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the image above will give you a good idea on just how small these little guys are.