Saturday, September 10, 2016

Milkweed Zoo

Milkweed growing has been a great success for most of the six (or was it seven?) varieties I sprouted last spring. Doing particularly well is A. incarnata (swamp milkweed), A. verticillata (whorled milkweed), and A. tuberosa (butterfly weed). Take a look at those hardy roots on that sixteen inch tall swamp milkweed. The five inch deep cell trays that were terrible for vegetable starting were great for milkweed because I could leave them to develop strong roots without worry about setting them out too late.

I've planted out in the yard and woods a majority of the plants, and all that remain in cell trays are only unplanted due to the continual and relentless mosquito attack this late summer. We've had a highly unusual, severely wet and humid August and September which has had a deleterious effect on some of our vegetables, our studio building progress, and even our mood. It's even bringing on an early, brown autumn as wet Septembers are prone to instigate.

But enough about that. We did have a couple of dry, sunny days, one of which had me near the greenhouse bed of giant Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed in mid August. The milkweed, leaning from height and heavy rains well into our potato bed needed to be put back in its place. Being milkweed and August, I anticipated finding Monarch caterpillars, but there were none. What I did find, however, is a startlingly rich collection of other insects. Some were feeding on the plants while others were feeding on those feeding on the plants, and still some feeding on the litter of those feeding on the plants.

Black-legged Meadow Katydid.

Possibly a Blue Mud Dauber or maybe even a Steel-blue Cricket Hunter, and of course -an ant.

Mating Lady Beetles -likely the good, bad, and ugly kind otherwise known as Harmonia axyridis because they eat plant pests (good), were introduced by us humans (bad), and enter the house by the thousands in autumn (ugly).

And their offspring meeting an ant.

But what of this offspring, with its yellow coloration, different patterning, black legs, and little or no spines? After much digging, I'm going with the Ash Grey Lady Beetle, Olla v-nigrum -I do recall seeing a wine-colored 15-Spotted Lady Beetle earlier this year, submitted to BugGuide and identified. We'll see what the insect community has to say about this guy.

A Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.

Paper Wasps.

Red ant. Which kind? So many kinds...

Flower Crab Spider

Another kind of flower crab -notice the chunky hind quarter? The females change color to match their surroundings.

Yellow Jacket.

Had I spent even more time I would have found even more creatures; frogs, crickets, grasshoppers, moth larvae (Tussock Moth comes to mind). Check out this good post on the merits of maintaining a balanced ecology of the butterfly garden. Yes, we plant milkweeds for the Monarchs, but nature has its own way and we have ours. It's likely better to let nature take its course while we do what we can to better the circumstances of all living things.

I like the moment when the ant meets the paper wasp.

The monarch caterpillars do not seem to be fond of the old, possibly tough, Common Milkweed near the greenhouse and vegetable garden. No, they were found of a young A. syriaca, the butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) and the Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata). I prefer the last two, myself, for their nicer flower, form, and spread and so it is that these species, butterfly and plant, are in our flower garden.

It was only a matter of hours between the two photos, above.

Two weeks later, chrysalis still intact, metamorphosis nearly complete, and because it is late in the season, we wait for what some call the "super Monarch" -the one that flies all the way to Mexico and then breeds next year's northerly migrating offspring.

Plenty of nectar nearby.

To kick off the long flight.

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