There is a lot more to see in a garden or field than just plants. Flowers are nature’s way of attracting a wide variety of creatures. Many plants need wildlife to help with pollination. A flower or vegetable garden or a field of blooming weeds is full of life. Some come directly to feed on nectar or collect pollen such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Others, like spiders, wasps, assassin bugs and praying mantis, are attracted to areas with flowers because the bugs they eat are in the plants. Then, larger animals such as lizards and birds are attracted to the area because of the variety of insects they can find there.
Hummingbirds are a special sight. They are fun to watch at a hummingbird feeder, but watching them feed at flowers is more fun to me. This little female Ruby-throat Hummingbird checked out every bloom in the garden. I was able to catch a picture of her feeding at the aptly named Hummingbird flower yesterday. She seems to prefer Hibiscus flowers too.
Some butterflies like specific flowers. The Monarch butterfly requires the Butterfly Weed, also known as Milkweed, to lay eggs.
The Monarch larvae or caterpillars feed almost exclusively on Milkweed as they grow and prepare to undergo metamorphosis into a butterfly. Other butterfly species have their preferred plants too. When you think about it, that helps reduce the new caterpillars’ competition for the same plants after the butterfly eggs hatch. Caterpillars have to eat a lot to grow and turn into a butterfly!
I have a wide variety of flowers in my back yard to hopefully attract different types of wildlife. It works beautifully most of the time. I have discovered that something must be missing though. A beautiful Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly passes through the yard several times a day without stopping. They like daisies. I have a daisy plant in a pot. Perhaps they require more than one pot of daisies to make it worthwhile to stop and feed?
A great place to watch for butterflies, insects and other animals attracted by flowers is at a garden center. The large concentration of flowering plants attracts a lot of attention from insects. And it is free to walk around! Some of the pictures for There’s a Bug in my Blossom were taken at garden centers.
We can enjoy all that nature has to offer whether in our own yard, at the park or a garden center. We just need to get out and observe. And yes, sometimes flowers attract all sorts of wildlife!
One of the hard lessons new zookeepers must learn is how to catch animals. I was always amused to see it happen. The animal runs and the zookeeper chases. It is how we are wired. The animals zig and zag until the zookeeper is exhausted. It doesn’t matter if the chase involves a dog, zebra, goat or a butterfly. Catching up is very difficult to do. Four legged animals have a distinct advantage in speed and maneuverability. Flighted animals an even greater advantage. If you are starting in the rear you have already lost! You have to get in front of the animal to be successful. That is how cowboys would stop a cattle stampede in the early cattle drives. Cowboys would ride as fast as they could to get to the front of the stampede to try to turn the lead animals slowing the rest of the herd. It is impossible to stop a stampede from behind.
I sometimes find myself chasing after a photograph too. Trying to follow a flitting butterfly, a zooming dragonfly, a soaring eagle or even a sunset often ends in frustration. The trick is to observe, learn habits and place myself in the right spot at the right time.
Last Monday morning I was trying to capture a shot of this beautiful Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly in my brother’s garden in Memphis. The lure of the chase was strong and a natural instinct. I caught myself chasing. I would get tired of waiting only to move to another spot and see it feeding. I would then try to follow it as it flew around the yard. After a few minutes of no luck I stood back and watched. Soon the butterfly’s feeding pattern became apparent. There were two levels to the garden with zinnias blooming in an upper section and then down in a low area. This butterfly was flying a loop between the two areas. The flight pattern was not readily apparent because part of the loop took it over a back fence into another yard. The butterfly would disappear. It left the upper flowers, flew over the fence and then reappeared to feed on the lower flowers. It did this over and over. Being in the right spot with the camera was now much easier! When the butterfly flew over the fence at the upper level, I moved to the lower area and waited. It reappeared pretty much on schedule, and I got my photos. The butterfly also spent more time on the flowers in front of me, because I was already set up and part of the landscape.
Part of being a photographer, a wildlife observer or being a zookeeper is staying ahead of our targets. Take the time to learn animal habits, observe them in the wild and then go for the photograph. That pre-planning will pay off in the long run. Just remember, “Don’t chase the goats!”
Look for my new book, There’s a Bug in My Blossom, available for order now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble!
This website will help you explore and share your experiences! We can talk about how to see and photograph those tiny things and those that are larger. We’ll also look at why all of these living things have a place in the grand scheme of things.
What things can you see in the garden? Freddy Squirrel would like to see your pictures and drawings of bugs and other critters you find in your flowers.