Butterflies on your flowers means…

…caterpillars eating your their leaves. All around our neighborhood, we’re seeing eaten leaves.

On burdock.

On the coneflowers.

On pink turtleheads.

On dogbane.

And upon closer inspection, we found a few caterpillars, too.

The dogbane caterpillars were quite conspicuous in the protective webbing at the ends of the leaves. We’re not sure if this is Fall Webworm. They have the yellow body and the dots, so we’ll have to keep watch and see if they develop the hairs as the younger caterpillars grow and shed their skin.

Underneath a coneflower leaf, we discovered a clump of black spiky caterpillars hanging out.

After doing some looking around, Ms. Flora determined that they are likely Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars–which we’ve seen on the flowers! So that’s a good match. Check out Growing the Home Garden’s website for some photos of them as they grow.

Something concerns us though. Some of the flower gardeners who commented were ready to ‘get rid of’–kill–the caterpillars on their flowers. Sad. The way the insect populations are plummeting these days with pesticide use, nature needs every caterpillar out there. Many of these caterpillars never make it into their chrysalis because they are picked off by wrens and other alert, insect-eating birds to feed their young. We squirrels also, ahem, don’t mind a few insect snacks.

We hope a few more of you humans might be willing to accept a few bug-eaten plants to keep our world thriving.

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Have you seen a swallowtail?

No kidding, years ago, we’d see dozens of these big guys. This year, this tiger swallowtail is the first we’ve seen in this bushy garden. True, the these Joe Pye Weed flowers just began blooming, but the dogbane has been in flower for a month and attracting all kinds of bees… Just no butterflies.

What’s your swallowtail count?

On a Milkweed

Insects–including insect pollinators!–flock to milkweed!

Tiger Swallowtail

Monarch laying her eggs.

The caterpillars will feed on the leaves and the butterflies on the nectar.

Large Milkweed bugs, which look like this as juveniles and…

growing up…

and this as adults.

Skippers.

Silvery Checkerspot

Silver-spotted skipper.

Aphids, which draw in…

Ladybugs.

Not to be confused with the Milkweed Leaf Beetle, which eats the leaves, not their pests.

Of course with all this bug activity, you will see spiders.

And even ants!

Of course, the insect most humans are interested in these days: Honeybees.

But don’t forget the native bumblebees!

There is room enough for both on these hundreds of little flowers!

Plant milkweed as an anchor for insects your garden!

Happy Pollinator Week!

Yes, pollinators have the support of a week dedicated to them, just like squirrels do! (That shows you how important they are. Squirrel Week IX was back in April when we were doing out Blogging From A to Z Challenge, so we, um, missed it.)

Pollinator Partnership sponsors this activity to coordinate events and raise awareness about the need for pollinator health.

We’ve tried to do that here, without any coordination, and we trust that our human readers are interested in keeping our natural world healthy, not just squirrels activities. We put out a bee and wasp quiz after featuring bees in 2016. This is a fun look at our most common bees and was a lot of work for Hickory to collect for a Mystery post, so we will just post that here for you to return to: One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve — Bee Quiz.

Pollinators aren’t just bees…so maybe we will get together another post–quiz?– by the end of pollinator week. But for today, we have some bee identification resources for you.

In that bee quiz, we suggested using the Native Bees of North America on Bug Guide to identify your bees. We’ve found another site specific to Bumble Bees that is more detailed in breaking down each part of the bee that you need to look at to make an accurate identification: Bumble Bee Watch. You can even submit your bumblebee photos and go through the guided key to identify your local species.

We gave it a go, because Hickory and I have pretty good photos, right? Hmm. Take this group of the same bee foraging on a Purple Turtlehead.

We know the location, the date, the plant the bee is on. We have a great view of his side and tip of his abdomen. But the bee face is missing! And so is the very top of the bee’s thorax. And we can’t see how the yellow bands merge with the black ones, which can take many, many shapes. You need to have these bee parts to identify the bee!

Bumble Bee Watch has a very clear tips on how to photograph bees for identification. We get close enough–bumble bees are focused on getting their nectar and pollen supplies when they visit a flower, so don’t worry about being stung. But in the future, we will take more photos from different angles–especially if the bee is on the flower for as long as this one was!

Bumble Bee Watch has a nice gallery of dozens of bumblebees showing their identification features, flowers, and range. So even if you don’t submit a photo, you can learn a lot!

Have you tried to identify a bee? What resources did you use? We’re sure we haven’t found them all yet!

Firefly season!

The lightning bugs are out and lighting up our evenings, but we bet most humans recognize these beetles even in the daytime.

Did you know that fireflies are sensitive to light pollution? The flashes they give are signals to the opposite sex that they’d like to get together. But if they can’t see each other… No more fireflies. And like other insects, they also have to deal with pesticides and development of the fields and woods they live and lay eggs in.

Lots to think about these days. I keeps us happy to know that our readers are thinking of wildlife and working out ways to live alongside us and other creatures.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this guy?

If so, give us your guess in the comments! I’ll be back to check answers!

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This ‘ladybug-look-alike’ is a Milkweed Leaf Beetle! But unlike ladybugs that eat aphids, these beetles feed on the milkweed leaves.

The Milkweed Leaf beetle can be found on a number of milkweeds, the Common Milkweed shown here, as well as Swamp Milkweed…

and we’ve seen them on Butterfly Weed.

If you inspect any one of these milkweed plants, you’re sure to find many different kinds of orange and black insects. The Bug of the Week website has more about the Milkweed Leaf beetle and these other milkweed community insects.

Q is for Quince

Heh, we squirrels thought ‘Q’ was going to be one of those tricky letters to get a woody plant that flowers for bees. (We are participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, in case you didn’t pick up on that!) But no, Flowering Quince tops many of the bee-food lists. So, plant away!

 

Quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is a member of the rose family that was brought to Northern America in the 1700s. The simple, five-petaled flowers lookouts like rose and apple blossoms, but they are a beautiful salmon pink.

Many of you humans plant quince and trim it up, but if you place it in a hedge and just let it go, it grows to 10 feet high and forms a nice loose safe-haven for squirrels and maybe some songbirds…ok, a lot of songbirds that will eat the fruits, which are tasty.

This shrub grows in a variety of soils and light conditions, but blooms best in full sun.

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Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing


P is for Prunus

Prunus is the genus name of the cherry family. We squirrels are well aware of the many types of cherry trees you humans have created to beautify your spring. Well, keep doing it! But could you lean toward those simple flowers, not the complicated ones?

Have you ever noticed that the bees can’t find their way to the center with the nectar and pollen? It’s the same with some of your more complicated flowers–just go back to the simple ones if you are planting for pollinators.

We will leave it to you to look at the various kinds. Wild cherries might even have self-seeded in your yard after a bird ate the fruit. All bloom better in full sun. They have widely varying blooming times, and some even bloom in the fall.

Members of the Prunus genus rely on bees to pollinate their flowers. The more flowers visited, the more cherries a tree will have.

~~~

Purchase plants and seeds from a known source that does not use pesticides / insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. They are not safe for honeybees and native bees. Watch this bee researcher’s Ted Talk to learn more about bees, why they are dying and how you can help:

Marla Spivak: Why Bees Are Disappearing


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a tricky one–can you actually see the thing we’re asking you to identify?

I’ll be back to check your guesses later!

~~~

That was decidedly hard to see. How about this?

This little critter camouflages really well!

Its a walking stick–the kind that’s an insect. And look at the size of him! Compare him to the oak and maple leaves–about 4.5 inches long. It’s so cool that the body is speckled like tree bark and the undersides of the flat legs are orange. Maybe that’s to make it look like stems coming from a twig, or to break up the look of a body. The color perfectly matched some Virginia Pine needles the walking stick was walking over.

Walking sticks or stick-bugs are members of the insect order Phasmatodea, which includes many different species. We aren’t sure which this is, but we squirrels do see them often in the treetops where they feed on leaves. In fact, we understand that in the warmer climates of the American south, walking sticks can endanger trees by defoliating them if the insects overpopulate.

This one might have fallen with the leaves, or, if it’s a she, it may have actually descended on purpose to lay her eggs in the soil. They usually only live one season, and appear large in the autumn just like wolf spiders and praying mantids because they have had all summer to grow.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize this butterfly? Top side…

Bottom side…

Give us a guess in the comments–I’ll be checking back later for your answers!

~~~

See the little white mark on the underside of the wing? The ‘comma’? This is a comma butterfly, which should certainly not be confused with this butterfly:

The question mark butterfly! Okay, honestly they look very similar, from the bottom and the top…

The undersides of both are described as being brown mottled, but the question mark we saw seems to be unusually orange. The photos we saw on Butterflies and Moths of North America vary, too, and the mottling is there.

Hope you enjoyed your nature punctuation lesson for today!