Ants and most flies that are abundant around my milkweed are nectar robbers – providing no pollination services for the plant. I do see flies from time to time that might carry a pollinia, and sometimes a lightweight like the housefly pictured above will get a leg or two stuck and be unable to free itself. That’s what these ants are waiting for. Here we see the ants beginning to dissect their prey while it struggles to free itself.
Most soldier beetles are true opportunists when it comes to tucker. While not being the most efficient pollinators, these beetles can be found around almost any flowers from mid to late summer where they feed on nectar, pollen and small insects like aphids and ants. This one was photographed on my common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
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I had been watching this exquisitely camouflaged spider on this Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) all week. This evening I noticed it had grabbed itself some tucker and grabbed the camera. In these two photos (not the same bee) check out the pollinium (pollen sacs) that are attached to the honeybee’s legs. This is quite the interesting pollination system that milkweed use. As an insect is having a meal on the nectar the flowers provide, the pollinium attaches itself to the leg of the visitor and is removed from the donor flower. Upon removal, the pollen sack is turned perpendicular to the receptor sight, known as the “stigmatic slit” – thus avoiding self-pollination. A few minutes or so later, as the insect is visiting other flowers, the translator arms begin to dry and that flat sack of pollen now orients itself to be able to fit in this slit – thus pollinating another flower. Often, these pollinium can attach to themselves, forming long, branched chains, which may increase the chances for successful pollination.
Obviously the honeybee is not the natural pollinator of milkweed, but this exotic insect is now the primary pollinator of A. syriaca and several other milkweed species. Scientists are unsure which native species were primarily responsible for this service prior to the introduction of the honeybee, or why they are not found in more abundance currently. With the current plight of both the honeybee and the monarch butterfly, it would be a wise thing to plant as many milkweed as we can in neighborhoods and in reconstructions of prairie habitats. So far my milkweed are looking good and I hope to collect plenty of seed this year (aphids really limited flower and seed production the last two years). So, if you are interested in planting some milkweed, let me know.
“No living man will see again the long-grass prairie, where a sea of prairie flowers lapped at the stirrups of the pioneer. We shall do well to find a forty here and there on which the prairie plants can be kept alive as species. There were a hundred such plants, many of exceptional beauty. Most of them are quite unknown to those who have inherited their domain.”
Please here my plea in considering using plant species that were/are native to your geographic area the next time you consider a landscaping project. I have gotten a lot of pleasure from the couple of native wildflower patches I put into my yard. If you are a nature photographer or an appreciator of Nature and all her diversity, this is an excellent way to continue these passions while contributing to the conservation ethic. You may even suggest this to the companies you work for and organizations in which you are involved.