Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Butterflyweed and Non-Butterflies

Butterflies are not the only creatures attracted to the Butterflyweed. The plant is certainly a stopover for any animal that has a taste for nectar. Bee species easily outnumber butterflies as frequent visitors. Bumblebee colonies are still building their numbers, so these large bees are only moderately abundant right now.

Leaf Cutter Bees, which were very plentiful last season, seem even more abundant this year.

The Honeybee population fluctuates yearly and at present seems to be on the rise. Since it’s a non-native species, I don’t have any special interest in its management at Blue Jay Barrens.

The black and orange of the Milkweed Bug blends quite well with the Butterflyweed flowers. These bugs tend to visit all milkweed species on an equal basis. The black and orange coloration is common to several species of milkweed dependent insect species.

It would be interesting to count the number of different species that visited a single Butterflyweed clump during a 24 hour period. First I’d have to be able to identify the various tiny bees that swarm the blossoms. In the case of this particular field, I’d have to classify a Butterflyweed visitor census as a hazardous undertaking. In the 15 minutes I spent crouching next to this plant, I accumulated about three dozen chigger bites.

Don’t restrict your viewing to just the flower tops. There’s also a lot going on in the lower levels. You can find the most interesting things by looking at an object from a slightly different angle.

It doesn’t seem possible to have a cluster of flowers that has no Ambush Bug lurking beneath the petals. The camouflaged predators are nearly impossible to see, but once you learn the shape, they start to turn up everywhere.

Heavy forelegs with hooked tips are perfect for snagging a nectaring bee or butterfly. I’ve been fooled many times into stalking an insect with my camera only to find it dead in the grip of an Ambush Bug.

The Milkweed Leaf Beetle also displays the black and orange pattern. This isn’t a very common species at Blue Jay Barrens. The literature describes it as being most commonly associated with the Swamp Milkweed, a species that is very uncommon here. Maybe the barrens are just too dry for this beetle.

We can’t forget other small creatures that make their homes on the Butterflyweed. Jumping Spiders are the lapdogs of the spider world. Doesn’t this guy make you want to scoop him up and pat his head. I had a hard time getting a focused shot because the spider kept crowding up to the lens. The actions of the Jumping Spider make it look more intelligent than most dogs I’ve met. It’s a shame we can’t grow them to at least hamster size.


  1. HI Steve ...I am just amazed at this gorgeous plant!!
    How striking it is... saw yesterday's and today's post and it sure is a crowd pleaser..haha!!
    Yesterday butterflies are wonderful!!

  2. I had the same thoughts as you about counting visitors to a stand of canada thistle just the other day..had planned to photograph more plants and ended up snapping 50 bug mugs instead!The highlite of the day was a hummingbird moth and although common, the emerald green of the native sweat bees always makes my day..i got one of those "luck shots" on the moth, (as i'm sure you know they don't sit still)you talked about in another post..your shots are very cool!

  3. The chiggers are giving me hell right now too. I've started to wear rubber boots whenever I visit my local prairies. They can walk right through fabric but not rubber.

  4. I hope you noticed, grammie g, that I put the spider at the end so it wouldn’t scare you away before you saw all of the other pictures.

    Thanks, Michael. I’m always grateful for the luck shot, but we can’t overlook the skill it takes to be properly positioned to get that luck shot.

    Hi, David. Braving the chiggers just shows how much some people love the prairies. It would be nice if you could build up immunity to chigger bites.