|Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum) |
Creek Field, September 2016
Those colors lit up the field in early September!
But if you see a thistle, and you can't stand drama, better look the other way.
Where there's a pollen-filled thistle, there's a story--or maybe two, or three, or four....
I have spent most of my life with my nose in a book. As a result, my real-world observational skills are just now beginning to develop.
Better observers would have noticed at once many of the stories in this thistle.
But I had to discover them slowly, step by step.
Yes, I noticed there was a soldier beetle in the center. But I had to look closely to see that there were two beetles, and they were multitasking: Ensuring a future generation of soldier beetles, and, in the male's case, mate-guarding, while snacking on thistle-pollen and keeping an eye out for unwary aphids or flies that might happen by.
And I saw the cucumber beetle buried in the florets, enjoying the smorgasbord as well.
But it wasn't until I stepped away from the thistle and magnified the photo on my phone that I noticed there was something else in the photo, something dark and rough in between the two thistles.
What was it--a leaf? Wings? Good grief--a butterfly!
If a butterfly was feeding on that thistle, too, I wanted a better picture of it.
I hurried back to the thistle, and luckily, the butterfly was still there!
It looked like a Silver-spotted Skipper, or at least some skipper with white patches on its wings. Its head was buried in the flowers.
But why wasn't it moving?
I touched it gently--no reaction.
Uh-oh. Not a good sign.
This butterfly was not alive.
I know from experience that when insects appear in the open, in awkward, immobile positions, there's usually a spider involved.
So I looked more closely. Sure enough, there, under the skipper, barely distinguishable from the thistle, was the round belly and two legs of a crab spider.
I had seen this kind of spider before--long front legs, abdomen like a white bowling ball with splotches of color--it was one of the crab spiders in the genus Misumena that blend in with flowers and wait for prey.
According to my Insects of Kansas book, some Misumena can change color to match the flower they're on.
This spider blended in so well with the thistle!
Here is a blow-up of the spider. Those long front legs are pointed down, vertically, while thistle florets cross in front of the legs horizontally and diagonally.
The legs look so much like the flowers!
Death looks a lot like life.
The thistle offered food, in more ways than one.
That butterfly came to eat and stayed to be eaten.
I took a final photo before I left and saw that a second Cucumber Beetle had shown up--just to keep the stories coming.