Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Day in the Butterfly Garden

Okay - I admit it - I am hooked on the insects in the butterfly garden! Check out some of this morning's finds:

This is a Virginia Ctenuchid moth (Ctenucha virginica). Isn't it gorgeous? You should see it when it is flying, for when the wings open up, a brilliant metallic blue body flashes out and grabs your eye! This is a diurnal moth which is usually found in wet meadows of the eastern U.S. and Canada. Apparently it also likes dry butterfly gardens. I haven't been able to find out much else about this insect, except that its larvae eat grasses.

This bald-faced hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) was very focused on the milkweed flowers. In fact, it was so focused on this one flowerhead that after I took its photo and walked around the garden a bit, chatting with visitors, I came back to find it still drinking away in the same place! Anyone who knows me well can likely tell you that I have a very healthy respect, shall we say, for bees, wasps, hornets, etc. So, the fact that I actually got close enough to take this one's photo is a big deal for me. This is especially true for the bald-faced hornet, which is a rather aggressive member of the yellowjacket genus of wasps (in other words, it is not a true hornet). This is the insect that builds those paper nests outside your backdoor, nests that can sometimes reach three feet in length! And they guard these nests diligently. Should you disturb them (and it doesn't take much), they will come at you, aiming for your face, and sting repeatedly. Like I said - I have a healthy respect for them.

The hollyhock, which was just a bud yesterday, is in full bloom today.

This has become one of my favorite garden flowers. It is a Verbascum, but I'm not sure which variety of verbascum this is, however. Mullein, which grows in the wild all over up here, is also a verbascum (Verbascum thapsus).

One of the great things about being a naturalist (and a generalist at that) is that there is an endless supply of unknown things to learn about. Insects rank right up there as uncharted territory for me. I never really cared for insects as a child, but now that I am older (and wiser), and can take the time to sit quietly and just observe, I find that insects are indeed quite fascinating. And colorful. This little fellow could be a fly or a "bee" (I'm leaning towards fly since it has only two wings, a trait of the Dipteras); it was hanging out on the globe thistle leaves, gently bobbing its abdomen up and down. It looks dangerous, but I'm guessing that the odds are it is a harmless little pollinator. Update: this is a syrphid fly, specifically it is Metasyrphus venablesi. It is in the family of flies that are known, among other things, as hover flies. Check out the website: http://www.cirrusimage.com/Flies_hover.htm, which has some great images of these flies. Surphids are important (beneficial) insects, acting as pollinators for many flowering plants. While the adults only eat nectar and pollen, the larvae are voracious predators of insect pests, such as aphids, thrips and mites.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is in the milkweed family. You can find monarch caterpillars on this as easily as you can on common milkweed.

Another flower that should be in all our gardens up here is Wild Bergamot (Mondarda fistulosa). This is a pink variety of bergamot (aka: bee balm), whereas true wild bergamot has a pale lavender flower. Still, it is a native wildflower, a member of the mint family, and one that is very popular with many of our insect pollinators (and hummingbirds). I have found that this pink variety (as well as the wild one) does not spread as voraciously as the deep red and magenta varieties that are popular in nurseries, nor is it prone to mildews (like the others).
The list goes on...so much to see. Hopefully this will temp you enough to go out and explore your own gardens...or come to the VIC and explore ours!


  1. The colors were just bursting from your photos today - that Virginia moth was especially beautiful - didn't know moths could be that attractive!

  2. Thanks, Shellmo! It is a lovely insect. Actually, I have found over the years that many things that we ignore or dislike turn out to be fascinating when we take the time to really look closely at them.

    BTW - nice shot of a flying loon on your blog!

  3. Naturegirl, your closeups are amazing! What type of camera do you use to assist your natural artistic eye?