Competition for the flowers

Hickory and I were doing some butterfly watching on a lazy afternoon this week.

We noticed these insects take every opportunity they can to feed, and we assume this Pearl Crescent butterfly was happy to find one Butterfly Weed in bloom when the rest are just buds. But then we noticed another insect coming in on the left.

See him, the green fellow?

That’s a Cuckoo Wasp–a wasp for the love of acorns! We backed away. But did the Pearl Crescent leave?

No.

Hickory flicked his tail from a safe distance. “Guess that milkweed nectar is better than most.”

Thirsty Thursday

Well, folks, it’s been a few years since this old squirrel has seen a good stand of Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinals. But I did this week.

Is that a pretty sight, or what? This of course, was down by the pond. Cardinal Flower is one of those plants that likes its feet–well, its roots–wet.

You humans like it for the red flowers, and so do the insects and  hummingbirds. Makes it easy to spot. However, pretty much only the hummingbirds are successful at getting the nectar from a Cardinal flower–or any of the Lobelia family for that matter.

Might be hard for you to tell, but this type of flower is one Miz Flora calls ‘tubular.’ Among all those fancy bits of petal, is a backend that is so long that it takes a hummingbird tongue to reach the nectar. Some of the buds there at the top are a sample of that distance.

This is a mighty beautiful plant, so much so that it has been picked to the point of disappearing. Please, if not for your friend Ol’ Wally here but also for the  hummingbirds, admire it with photos.

On a leaf

The Common Milkweed plants are mature, and the Monarchs are finding them. But have you noticed that these native wildflowers attract tons of bugs? A few years ago we showed many of them, and here are three from our recent visit.

A Carolina Mantis on milkweed leaf–an immature one, his wings are just forming.

Milkweed Leaf Beetle

Pearl Crescent

And here’s that Milkweed Community post in case you’d like to see more!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this late nester?

I’ll check back later!

~~~

We admit this is a tough one–only a dark-feathered back and a broad yellow beak. And maybe you can see a hint of her nest, made of twigs.

This little lady is a common songbird in our part of northern Virginia–an American Robin.

See the similarities?

Fun facts: robin nests are constructed of approximately 350 twigs and pieces of grass, each about 6 inches long. The robin uses mud, collected one beak at a time, to ‘cement’ the nest together, then lines the inside with more grasses.

Want more information? This American Robin page on Learner.org helped us with its good facts.

Swallowtails

We just answered a regular reader’s question about the swallowtails we featured yesterday and thought perhaps we should show a comparison of all the swallowtails we happen to have photos of. We are by no means experts, and admit we have help from another reader–hi, Nancy!

The question was about the ‘dark phase’ being a Tiger Swallowtail. It is that same species, not a different one. The females are dimorphic, a biology term meaning they can have two forms, in this case, two colorations or phases. The scales that are normally yellow are a dark gray to black instead.

This should not be confused with Black Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails and Spicebush Swallowtails, which are normally black. We should also point out that the dark phase here is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From our research, we think it only occurs in the Eastern species. And, er, the the yellow ones we showed mineral sipping are Western Tiger Swallowtails. We were given those photos from our field correspondent in Colorado (remember Coney?) and actually didn’t put it together they were a different species. Sorry for any confusion that may have caused.

We won’t go into identification features here because it’s so complicated (which is why Nancy helps us) and there are better sites for that. We feel that if you know the possible names, you can look them up. So here we go with some comparison swallowtail photos, with names below the image!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail from Colorado. Note it does not have the blue above the ‘tails.’

dark phase Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

female Black Swallowtail

male Black Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail – also a species from Colorado