Cabbage Whites

Those little white butterflies that we see flying about don’t attract too much attention. Until they do this…

Pretty cool, huh? They are gathered on this spot of wet mud–not too hard to find around here these days!–because they are sipping fluids, but also minerals, salts and other nutrients from the soil. It’s called mud-puddling.

By the way, these are cabbage white butterflies. They aren’t moths as some humans mistakenly believe.

One of Nature’s Mysteries To Solve

Hey there!

This little guy interrupted my nap…and I remembered it’s mystery day!

What is he?

Check back with you later!

~~~

This little Spring Azure butterfly–about a half inch across–can vary in it’s gray to whitish coloring, but the underwings are usually gray with darker markings. They might have marks along the edges or not. The females are the same coloring on top, but the males are a bright blue. If they are sitting–which is even hard to catch them doing!–the wings are up, so the blue or gray upper wings are mostly seen in flight–and they are quick!

We’ve noticed the Spring Azures flying in our neighborhood for years, but only looked them up this year. The adults like the nectar of Dogbane, which we have nearby, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves of spirea…which we also have! So we squirrels will be checking for eaten leaves this summer and reporting back!

Z is for Zebra Swallowtail

Beautiful, isn’t it? We feature this beautiful member of the swallowtail butterfly group each year because in a week of hard-to-find nature letters, it’s a staple. But it’s also harder to find this butterfly. Its caterpillars eat only one food, the leaves of the Common Paw Paw, Asimina triloba.

This understory tree lives with its roots in wet soil, along streams and rivers.

At least those leaves are huge–10 to 12 inches long and 4-6 inches wide at the middle.

The dark red flowers bloom in the spring and turn into a fruit lumpy with large seeds in the fall. Maybe you can find a tree with caterpillars feeding on it this year.

We’ve had a great time posting this year’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge! Thanks to our many readers for joining us for a look at nature in suburbia. We hope it helps you to enjoy nature around your home!

The Monarch emerged!

This morning we happened by those Passion Flower plants again and look what we saw!

Monarch chrysalis about to emerge

The Monarch was close to emerging. We got a few acorns hunted down and by the time we came back, the butterfly had broken out of her chrysalis.

newly emerged Monarch butterfly female.

She hung there while her wings expanded. Look at the fluid that dripped off of her.

Fluid from newly emerged monarch

Another time we ran by, she had moved into the open and was spreading her wings.

female Monarch butterfly

That’s how we knew this was a girl–no spots on her hind wings.

female-monarch-butterfly_2

It’s a great feeling to see one be able to succeed at making it to the butterfly stage!

Warm fall days in the Passion Flower leaves

variegated-fritilary-caterpillars

With these warm days, we still have active Variegated Fritillary caterpillars around the neighborhood. And they must be getting enough to eat!

variegated-fritelary-chrysalis

This monarch chrysalis is well on its way to maturing, too!

monarch chrysalis

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ever seen something as crazy as this?

mystery #165

Let me know what you think is!

I’ll be back later to post the answer!

~~~

Hope y’all knew it was a caterpillar…it’s a Variegated Fritillary just starting  to make a chrysalis. Here’s a before shot of the caterpillar, on the right, sharing a Passionflower leaves with another caterpillar.

variegated fritillary sharing passionflower leaves

This was a little after the first photo.

variegated fritillary starting a chrysalis

About halfway done.

variegated fritillary middle of making chryslis

And nearly done.

variegated fritillary finishing chrysalis

Pretty neat, huh?

Variegated Frittilary on Violets

Honeybees

honey-bee-in-flightWe’ve heard a lot about honeybees in the news, and you humans are very concerned about their decline, but did you realize they aren’t even native? We squirrels kind of knew that, but it’s not like we keep track of your human activities. Even the ‘wild’ bees are escaped from domestic colonies brought to North America, according to the Bug Guide website’s article on bees. (Can you tell we love that website?)

First, the decline. It started in the mid 2000s and is still somewhat of a mystery. Read here for more on how Colony Collapse Disaster unfolded: Earthjustice’s The Perfect Crime: What’s Killing all the bees?

Second, take a gander at some honeybees to you can identify them.

honey-bee-on-a-sneezeweed

Honeybee on a sneezeweed.

honey-bee-on-a-butterfly-bush

Honeybee on a Butterfly Bush

honey-bee-on-a-zinnia

This Honeybee on a Zinnia has pollen sacs on his legs filled with pollen.

Have you ever seen bees swarm?

honeybees-swarming

See all the little gold dots? Bees.

honeybees-moving-into-tree

It takes them a bit to gather after they leave. See the thickening of bees on the branch on the upper right?

honeybee-swarm-1

And the branch below it!

honeybee-swarm-collecting-on-branch

They take a bit to get organized into one swarm.

honeybee-swarm-gathering-before-they-move-on

Then they collect and rest before taking off again. We squirrels don’t want to be in the treetops when this happens, but it’s an amazing thing to watch!

Just how important are honeybees? We squirrels believe our readers know, but if you still haven’t had enough of reading about bees, check out Earthjustice’s 11 Bee facts that will have you buzzing.

Bees like composite flowers!

What are we talking about, you may ask? This!

Yellow Bumble Bee on Mexican Sunflower

Composite flowers look like one flower, but are actually many small flowers grouped as one. See the teeny little petals sticking up in the middle? Each is a flower! And if you know sunflowers, each flower makes a seed. Composite flowers actually evolved to be like this as a strategy to attract bees.

“What?” Hickory popped his head up from digging a hole. “Flowers think?”

Not really, but Mix Flora says they tend to change according to what works. Like some flowers smell a particular way–sweet, or like rotten meat–to attract insects to pollinate them, others like Lady’s Slipper make a very small passage to push pollen on the bees.

But back to composites! A flower that is really many flowers is very efficient if you’re a bee. I’m sure all you humans have heard the phrase “busy as a bee”, and it’s true. They work hard, but they also like shortcuts.

You can give bees two shortcuts in your garden:

Plant composites, like zinnias, which are easy to grow.
bee-on-a-zinnia

Group your flowers in masses of color.

agapostemon-sp-sweat-bee

This sweat bee will go from this yellow flower to the next and the next and the next. It’s like going to the biggest oak to gather acorns, instead of running around to a bunch of small ones. They see that huge patch of color and know they can collect what they need in one visit. We think you humans do this, too, when you go to stores.

Planting flowers to bloom throughout the entire growing season will help bees find nectar and pollen for the longest possible times they are active.

One of the earliest composites to bloom in the spring is–wanna make a guess?

dandelion seedhead

Dandelions! Yes, each of those seeds was a flower on a dandelion, so don’t pull them if you want to help bees! The latest composites to bloom are likely asters or goldenrod.

Goldenrod

We could give you a flower list, but other blogs have done it for us: Please visit The Peace Bee Farmer’s post on The Composite Family.

The University of Sussex’s Goulson Lab has a picture directory of The best garden flowers for bees.

Or go back to @helpthebees to see this great list they have pinned on their twitter feed.

flower list from @helpthebees