Saturday, September 19, 2020

Migrating Monarchs

 So many Monarch butterflies on McDowell Creek!   They have been drifting through by the hundreds this week, day after day.  The ones pictured here are newly eclosed--you can see how bright their colors are, how strong and whole their wings.   

The ones in this video are nectaring on Jerusalem Artichoke sunflowers by the creek and then on Maximillian sunflowers in the Creek Field.  

These newly emerged Monarchs have reproductive systems that have not yet matured.  They are not interested in mating but rather in gathering nectar to fuel the long flight ahead.  

They are headed for Mexico!  There they will cluster with thousands of others in a mountain fir forest.   This is where their great-grandparents started out, and they have never been there, but somehow they will find their way to this exact spot.   If they survive the winter, they will mature and head north a few hundred miles, where they will mate, lay eggs, and die.   It's their children who God willing will drift north through McDowell Creek next spring.  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Don't Underestimate the Lowly Thistle!

 The pink/magenta beauty of Tall Thistles (Cirsium altissimum) comes into full force at the end of summer.  Our native Tall Thistles should not be confused with non-native, noxious weeds, such as Musk Thistle.  Tall Thistles contribute energetically to the prairie ecosystem.   With their lavish production of nectar and pollen, they attract hungry visitors--hummingbirds, bees, moths, and butterflies:

Some insects specialize in thistles, such as the gorgeous Paracantha flies.   Here several members of the fruit-fly family meet and greet on Tall Thistles.   You can see some pairing up for the famous fruit-fly courting ritual, which involves "kissing": 

Mama Paracantha chooses a thistle bud and seeks out the parts that are at just the right stage to host her eggs.   When her young ones hatch, they will be surrounded by thistle blossom--the very food they need:  

Never disparage native thistles.   Plant them!   Ecologically, they are a treasure.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Prairie Walkingstick--but don't try to walk with it!

Prairie Walkingstick (Diapheromera velii),
probably female,  as males have a spine
on the femora of the 2nd & 3rd pairs of legs.   
September is a great month for Walking Sticks and Praying Mantises.

Here's a Prairie Walkingstick (Diapheromera velii), clinging to the back door.    

This mild-mannered plant-eater looks so delicate compared to the carnivorous praying mantis clinging to the screen (pictured below).  

Notice the mantis's huge front legs, just made for grabbing--something the vegetarian Walking Stick does not need.   

  Check out those "arms!"
Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina) perched on a
window screen.  He is probably a male, as females do not have such
long & fully developed wings.