Saturday, January 19, 2019

Echinacea Eatery, Part 2: Pearl Crescent on Echinacea Leaf

Unlike the Silvery Checkerspot in Echinacea Eatery, Part 1, this Pearl Crescent is not feeding.  Instead, it is rhythmically flapping its wings:

Pearl Crescent on Echinacea Leaf
Riparian Buffer, Creek Field Prairie Restoration
July 19, 2019
Perhaps it is thermoregulating, as it was a very hot day.  Or maybe it is creating air currents to waft pheromones into the world.  Or maybe it is simply exercising its wing muscles, keeping limber.  Or perhaps is is indicating to potential predators that striking would be a waste of their energy, as this butterfly is ready to fly.

Maybe the reason is some combination of the above.  

According to Photographic Field Guide to the Butterflies of the Kansas City Region, by Betsy Betros, the one pictured here is a female, due to the pale knob on the end of the antenna.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Restaurant Rosinweed, Part 2

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) bloomed prolifically during the drought summer of 2018--unlike the Sawtooth Sunflowers (Helianthus grosseserratus), which normally are abundant but were barely visible during this dry year.  Many butterfly species that in past years have filled the Creek Field were also scarce.  Therefore, the abundance of the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) in our bottomland prairie restoration was especially striking.  Here one of hundreds of Silver-spotted Skippers feeds on the flowers of Rosinweed:

Silver-spotted Skipper on Rosinweed
Creek Field, August 14, 2018
Legumes are the host plants for the caterpillars of Silver-spotted Skippers, and our prairie uplands and bottomlands provide many candidates.   Redbuds, locusts, Blue Wild Indigo, Leadplant, Partridge Pea, trefoils, False Indigobush--all had vigorous growth this year, despite the drought. 

In addition to Silver-spotted Skippers, Monarch butterflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Goldfinches came to dine at Restaurant Rosinweed:  
Diners at Restaurant Rosinweed, in order of appearance:
Silver-spotted Skipper, Monarch butterfly, 
female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (dark form), and American Goldfinch.
Creek Field, mid-August, 2018
Bottomland Tallgrass Prairie Restoration

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bee Balm Bistro 3: Diners in the Drought

During the drought summer of 2018, many plant species didn't come up at all and others emerged but didn't bloom.  Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) was an exception.  It stayed short but went ahead and blossomed--much to the satisfaction of nectar-loving insects.   In this video, a Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) appears to find what he's looking for:

Bottomland Prairie Restoration, Creek Field, July 2018.

Silver-spotted Skippers do not go to yellow flowers.  They prefer pink flowers, such as Liatris spp., or lavender flowers, such as this gorgeous Bee Balm!  You can see that proboscis working rapidly, as he goes from blossom to blossom. 

Native bees also came to Bee Balm in the drought summer of 2018.    Here is a clip of two different Brown-belted Bumble Bees (Bombus grisecollis) going from one tubular blossom to another.  B. grisecolllis, according to, is identified by short dense yellow hairs on the thorax combined with a contrasting band of russet hairs on the second abdominal segment.   If you watch closely, you can see that "brown belt":

Bottomland Prairie Restoration, Creek Field, July 2018

Also, I was thrilled to find B. auricomus, Black-and-Gold Bumble Bee, coming to Bee Balm.   It looks so much like other bumble bees that without the help of, I would not have been able to identify it.   In the clip below, I can barely see the identifying tuft of hair on the top of the head.  More visible is the distinguishing thin band of yellow hair on the posterior edge of the thorax:
Bottomland Prairie Restoration, Creek Field, July 2018

I was especially glad to welcome this species, as B. auricomus favors prairies--and our Creek Field is just a restoration, a prairie wannabe.   

Also enjoying Bee Balm during the drought was a tattered butterfly, a dark-form female Tiger Swallowtail:  

Bottomland Prairiei Restoration, Creek Field, July 2018

Watching all these insects nectaring on Bee Balm makes my head spin!  They never sit still and drink deeply.  I wonder if the zig-zag movement is a way to avoid being snatched by a predator lurking on the flower, such as a crab spider or an ambush bug.  Still, half the nectar must go to fuel that hectic activity!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bee Balm Bistro 2: Setting the Table

Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa, is a native perennial in the mint family.  Its gorgeous pink-lavender flowers are a staple for insects that feed on nectar and pollen.  Normally, the Creek Field is full of Bee Balm blooms by late June.

But the drought of 2018 meant that by early July most of the Bee Balm was barely up.  What was up was short and hunched over, like little old men.
Here are the unpromising starts of Bee Balm
in the drought year of  2018.  The leaves are
curled up and bent over,
minimizing exposure and
curtailing evaporation.
Creek Field, June 2018
Bee Balm plants in 2018 reached only about half the height of last year's plants.

The dried stalks of last-year's Bee Balm tower
over the new green growth during the drought summer.
Creek Field, July 10, 2018

  However, Bee Balm was not one of the species that coped with lack of moisture by not blooming at all.   

To be sure some of the blooms were a little ratty:
Lack of moisture meant
lack of vigor in responding to
feeding pressure.  Some
blossoms looked peaked!
Creek Field, July 17, 2018
Lack of moisture meant lack of vigor and fewer resources to respond to feeding pressure.  

Well, if you are a plant and you open up a blossom when many other species aren't blooming at all, you are going to be heavily visited by creatures hungry for pollen, nectar, and petals.  

Bee Balm was one of the few ports in the drought storm of 2018!  

Some of the creatures who sailed in are shown in the next post, Bee Balm Bistro 3.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Solstice Blessing in the Road Field

Rabbit Tobacco is a native annual in the Sunflower family.
Road Field.  Dec. 21, 2018.
Here was an unearned blessing!

"Rabbit Tobacco," aka Gnaphalium obtusifolium, volunteered in our bottomland prairie restoration this year.   

Well over half of the species in the restoration so far are volunteers--from seeds that got here God knows how, not from seeds we planted.    
The seeds (shown lower left) are
attached to milkweed-like plumes.
Road Field, Dec. 21, 2018.

During the growing season
the stems look frosted, but
wooly as the plant dries.
Road Field, Dec. 21, 2018.
European settlers named this species "Sweet Everlasting," for the lovely aroma that persists long after the flowers have dried.  I picked some at the Solstice and gave them away as Christmas and New Year's bouquets.   The maple-syrup-like fragrance comes in bursts, filling a room with a fresh, pleasing smell.  
Native Americans used this plant to heal cuts and soothe coughs, as did the Europeans when they arrived, and both groups used it to sweeten the air inside tipis and cabins.   However, many other meanings accrued to this plant as well, as indicated by the multiple names it has acquired.  In addition to Rabbit Tobacco, common names for Gnaphalium obtusifolium include Poverty Weed, Fussy-Gussy, Cudweed, Border Walker, and Walker between Worlds. 

Clearly, Gnaphalium obtusifolium is a storied plant, though the tales behind the names have been lost to time.  I just wish I knew more about them!  

But I am grateful that Gnaphalium obtusifolium is now part of our story here on McDowell Creek!   

Thank you, Rabbit Tobacco, for walking to our world.