Friday, July 25, 2014

This 1st instar Monarch Butterfly caterpillar is less than 1 day old.  Having it's first meal of the discarded egg case, it is now feeding on the tiny hairs on the underside of the milkweed leaf.  The dime laying on the leaf gives some sense of the size of the caterpillar.  The numbers of eggs/caterpillars we are seeing is very encouraging compared to last summer when we saw very few monarchs at any stage in their life cycle. Offspring of this caterpillar will be making the trek to Mexico later this summer.
Photo: J. Ormiston  7/25/14

Large Milkweed Bug

Large Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) are members of the order Hemiptera and therefore have a feeding tube called a rostrum or beak. These insects pierce their food source, inject an enzyme which dissolves the food into a liquid which can then be sucked back through the beak.  Milkweed Bugs do this to the seeds and leaves of the milkweed plant.  Because the milkweed bugs concentrate the bad tasting toxins of the milkweed in their bodies predators recognize the black/orange mimicry coloration of these ill tasting insects and prefer not to make them lunch.
The rostrum of this Large Milkweed Bug is tucked back against the underside of its thorax.

This Milkweed bug has pierced the leaf vein of a Common Milkweed and is filling up on the milky sap of the plant.
Milkweed bugs will also take advantage of other food sources such as this daylily.
"Variety is the spice of life"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Solitary Solitary Sandpiper

As I walked down to the beach at the Metea County Park pond this morning I saw this lone SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria) looking for a meal along the waters edge. The Sandpiper was content to let me get quite close, realizing that I was not there to eat it.  A week earlier we saw one or more of these birds sitting on the rocks that were sticking out of Cedar Creek and staring at the water.

Most Sandpipers prefer to nest on the ground but SOLITARY SANDPIPERS will nest in trees frequently taking over existing nests.  That is possibly why we are seeing this bird in wooded areas of the park.

The Mydas Touch

Although often mistaken for wasps, members of the family of Mydas Flies belong to the order DIPTERA (two winged) and so are true "flies".   Mydas Flies (Mydas clavatus) have a wingspan of about 2" and are distinguished by the orange band on the 2nd abdominal segment and clubbed antenae.  Adults are not commonly seen because their lifespan is so short. Mydas Fly eggs are laid in the soil but the larva are usually found in rotting wood on the forest floor. The larva are beneficial to gardeners because they feed heavily on June Beetles.  Adults will prey on other insects but also seem to feed on nectar.

This pair of mating Mydas Flies was photographed at the main gate flower gardens at Fox Island County Park. 

Females seem to be receptive to multiple suitors and another male was closely following all movements of the pair as they flew around the flowers.
Photos by J. Ormiston  7/24/14

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Orange and Black, better stay back!"

This adult Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle is filling up on my Swamp Milkweed.  The adult will lay eggs on the milkweed and the larva emerge and go through 4 instar stages before dropping to the soil and pupating.
We all know of the importance of the milkweed plant for the survival of the Monarch Butterfly but there are other insects that are dependent on milkweed for food and also have the distinctive orange/black coloration that tell insect predators to "BEWARE - I taste bad and carry toxins".  Some of these insects are the Milkweed Tiger Moth (Euchaetes egle), Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus),and the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis). Other insects that do not feed on milkweed plants but benefit from the orange/black coloration are the Viceroy Butterfly and the Milkweed Assassin Bug.  This group of insects display what is known as Milkweed Orange and Black Mimicry.
The Swamp Milkweed Leaf beetle overwinters as an adult by finding shelter in forested areas.

Photos: J. Ormiston,
 July, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Got Milk - weed?

We all know that the Milkweed Family of plants is necessary for survival of the the Monarch Butterfly.  The ample blossoms of the common milkweed also supply nectar to this Hummingbird Clearwing Moth and  Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are frequently seen sipping from the blossoms of milkweed in the Fox Island Butterfly Garden.

Photo: J. Ormiston 7/1/2014 Fox Island Co. Park