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!
A couple of days ago, I happened to see a lovely orange butterfly in the front flowerbed. But it wasn’t going to the flowers. It was landing deep in the plant. I thought that was weird. Normally the butterflies are flitting from flower to flower drinking nectar. What is that butterfly doing?
The camera was handy so I took a few shots. I wanted to identify the butterfly and maybe get a good picture. I didn’t have my best butterfly lens installed on the camera at that time so the pictures are not as good as I like.
What I did see in those pictures was the butterfly laying eggs.
That is what she was doing down inside the leaves of the plant! By the time I came back out with a good macro lens, she was gone. Carefully lifting leaves, I found several small single white eggs on the plant’s leaves. She had placed them one to a leaf.
It was time for some research on this butterfly. I am hardly an expert on insects. Each time I see something new I have to research it to understand what I have seen. That is part of the fun of doing wildlife photography. It is fun doing the research and learning about this wonderful world.
It was a Queen Butterfly that I had seen in my garden that day. I, at first, thought she might be a Monarch. But the Queen doesn’t have those dark black wing veins like a Monarch. Monarch wings remind me of a stained glass window.
I found out that the Queen Butterfly is found in many parts of the world with temperate climates. The milkweed plant she used to lay her eggs was chosen as a host because the Queen butterfly caterpillars or larvae feed on milkweed. This is a common tactic with many insects to assure the young have the correct food source. If you know the food source of the caterpillar or other insect young, you can usually find those insects. I also found out in my research that the Queen does indeed lay only one egg per leaf. This makes sense since the newly hatched caterpillars will have less competition for food on their leaf when they hatch. They also tend to eat other small caterpillars!
If all goes well, the caterpillar will emerge from the egg in another day or so. It takes 3-5 days for the egg to ‘hatch’. I hope to see and photograph the new caterpillar at that time. The caterpillars go through growth stages called instars. It will be fun to watch them eat, poop and grow over the summer.
A side benefit of looking so closely under the leaves was discovering the tiny Yellow Aphids. If they become too numerous they can cause the plant to die. The only safe method I can find to rid the plant of aphids without killing the butterfly eggs too is to dab each aphid with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. I may let nature take its course instead. I’ll find out pretty quickly if the young caterpillars will eat aphids.
Stay tuned. This is the first time I have tried following a butterfly life cycle “in the wild”. It should be fun!