Monday, August 31, 2015

Orange Coneflower Visitors

Summer 2015 has produced some wonderful displays of single species flower patches.  Masses of Indian Hemp, Milkweed, Purple Coneflower and Monarda all developed attractive displays that drew in a multitude of insects and other animal species.  Now the patches of Orange Coneflower are drawing all of the attention.  Visitors to the Orange Coneflower blooms are usually the most impressive of the season.  I spent about 15 minutes observing visitors to a single 20 square foot patch of Orange Coneflower and was not disappointed with the diversity I witnessed.

Some visitors are attracted by the prospect of making a meal of nectar or pollen.  Orange Coneflower does not typically attract large butterflies, but some of the smaller species are known to visit.  The Pearl Crescent was looking particularly crisp and clean.

I saw two Horace’s Duskywings visiting the patch.  One was looking rather battered, but this one was appeared fresh.

I wasn’t sure this was really a living micromoth until it flew off at the prod of a finger.  At a glance the tiny moths often appear to be just a random bit of chaff.

This is a species of Eristalis fly.  Look at the pollen on those legs and body.  This guy is certainly no slouch when it comes to pollination.  Larvae of this species are aquatic, commonly being referred to as rat-tailed maggots.  Frequent heavy rains through the summer have provided plenty of breeding grounds for these flies.

Tiny solitary bees are everywhere this year.  I’ve found them on every species of flower I’ve examined.  They also like to ride along on me and drink sweat while I’m working.

The slightly smaller black bees have also been quite numerous.  They seem to carry pollen on every part of their body.

There were also many that I was unable to identify.

As usual, Soldier Beetles abound.  They move randomly among the flower heads feeding on pollen and flower parts.

There was an interesting encounter between weevils and a small ant.  The ant bit repeatedly at the weevils, but limited its aggression to the weevil’s wing covers.  The weevils continued with their activities, apparently unaware of the ant.

A variety of caterpillars were feeding on the flowers.  I wonder how long a light green looper can sit atop a dark flower disk without attracting the attention of some predator.

One of my favorite caterpillars is the camouflage looper.  With miscellaneous bits of plant material glued to its body, the looper looks more like a plant deformity than a living animal.

This camouflage looper is only lightly adorned, so the actual body of the looper is visible.  This species is frustrating to photograph because even in the best of shots it doesn’t really look like a caterpillar.

Some caterpillars spend their time hidden in the flower head.  Expelled frass is the only evidence that a living creature lurks inside.

Splitting the seed head reveals this little guy feeding among the developing seeds.

Placed on a new seed head, the caterpillar quickly burrows to safety.

This small Tachinid species may be getting a meal from the flower or it could be searching for an insect to act as host for its young.  Large patches of flowers are like a watering hole in the desert.  Animals come to feed on the flowers and predators wait to feed on the flower visitors.

Several small Braconid Wasps were searching the flower heads for possible hosts to receive the wasp’s eggs.  The wasp can reach its ovipositor deep into the seed head to deposit an egg on a hidden caterpillar.

The petals surrounding the flower head are a tasty treat for some insects.

Grasshoppers often feed on the petals.

Leaf Hoppers, such as this Tylozygus species, feed on the plant juices.  Sometimes its hard to tell whether an insect on a plant is actually using that plant as a food source or if that’s just where the insect happened to come to rest.

A flower perch is an ideal location for a young Gray Treefrog to await its next meal.  The treefrogs have taken advantage of the unusual number of breeding sites created by the exceptionally rainy summer.  Little frogs are everywhere.

Abnormalities of the flower structure often indicate the presence of some animal visitor.

A crab spider has joined the tips of two petals together to form a shelter.

Crab spiders are a common feature of the flower heads.  Some display coloration that helps them blend with the dark central disk.

Others blend with the yellow petals.

Many species of spider hang around the flowers.  Some don’t match color at all, but their posture still allows them to appear to be a natural blemish on the plant.
Ambush Bugs sit ready to grab insects with the curved pinchers of their front legs.  A strangely motionless insect sitting on or dangling from a flower is often in the grip of an Ambush Bug.

The predatory Damsel Bug probes for insects within the flower seed head.

This Spiny Assassin Bug nymph assumes the standard position beside the flower head as it awaits the arrival of a meal.

A highly colorful, though unexpectedly cryptic, Sycamore Assassin Bug nymph prowls the flowers in search of prey.

A large Robber Fly uses the flower as a perch from which to watch for flying insects passing by.  The Robber Fly will catch its prey in the air and return to the perch to feed.  With my allotted time expired, I moved on to complete my scheduled work for the afternoon.  Not a bad tally of interesting animals from 15 minutes of observation, and these are just the ones I captured with my camera.  


  1. Replies
    1. Hi, Stew. The amazing thing is, each time I stop to look at these flowers, I see visiting species that I had not seen before.

  2. The leaf hopper is my fav - nature is beautiful!

    1. Hi, Cindy. It's amazing how colorful a leaf hopper can be. The problem is getting close enough to see the tiny things.

  3. Nice shots! Thanks for sharing. I love coneflowers and rudbeckia. They attract so many fascinating insects and predators, plus flocks of chatty goldfinches.