A few days ago, the place where I work started a new weekly activity, a nature story time for young children. After reading a story about butterflies, the leader took everyone up to our native plant garden to look at some live butterflies. They were totally upstaged by a black rat snake sitting curled up in the wisteria vine, but there was a good crowd wandering around looking at things. At one point, my boss called me over to look at something, a group of insects flying over the grass. I told him what I thought they were, but I didn’t give it much thought as I needed to get my volunteers ready to do the weekly ladybug sampling. I was about to go into the office yesterday morning when something flew by that reminded me of that little swarm of insects and how interesting it was. So, I took my camera down to see if I could film it and was happy to walk away with a short recording. Later in the day, I ended up with some time to kill after work and before my evening moth program, so I headed back down to the garden to take some photos. I ended up with several videos of fun insect behaviors, so I thought I’d share some with you! First up, the little swarm…
Swarm of Scoliids
Scoliids are awesome wasps! They’re gorgeous creatures with bold markings and you can find them by the dozens at flowers in my area of North Carolina. Now I’m not entirely sure what the scoliids in the video (Scolia dubia) are doing, but there are two good possibilities. Scoliids are parasites of scarab beetles, including the green June beetles we have in very great abundance around here. That area where they were swarming is also an area where the beetles have been very active until recently. The wasps could have swarmed the area because there were a lot of good beetle larvae to parasitize by laying their eggs on them! The other option: males are known to do little mating dances for females, a wiggly little S shape or figure 8s. You can see these sorts of patterns in the video, and I know at least some members of the swarm were males, so it could have been a bunch of males showing off their sexy dances for females. Either way, it was super cool to see so many scoliids flying around in one area!
The woolly pipevine is currently COVERED with pipevine swallowtail caterpillars! I’ve shared some photos of their awesome defense mechanism before, but the video above highlights their feeding behavior. I don’t care as much about how it looks as how it sounds. If you can’t hear it, turn the volume up. You can hear those little buggers chewing! You can stand 5 feet back from the vine and hear these little popping noises and it’s all the caterpillars crunching up pipevine leaves. I think it’s fantastic!
Off to Pupate
Once the voracious little pipevine swallowtail caterpillars have eaten enough to grow to a certain size, they wander off to pupate away from the vine. The video above shows a caterpillar wandering. That little guy was surprisingly fast! Desperate to pupate?
There have been a lot of butterflies around recently as they’re getting a late start on their summer activities. I came across the scene above in the native plant garden, a male and female variegated fritillary getting ready to get it on. Bug porn! The pair ended up being scared away by a bird or something that flew overhead, so I only got the courtship, not the result…
And last, but not least:
Gulf Fritillary Nectaring
Apparently these butterflies are exciting here! Considering I’ve only been here two summers and I’ve seen them both summers, they didn’t seem that exciting to me, but I was talking to one of the leaders of the annual Wake County Butterfly Count today and he told me he’s only seen them in any sort of abundance only three years out of the 50 or so years he’s been watching butterflies. Perhaps their movement into North Carolina is due to climate change? Or perhaps the warm winter we had? Who knows, but they’re beautiful so I can’t say I’m sorry they’re here.
Because I’m getting this up on Saturday and not Friday, I think it’s only fair to share a bonus video with you! This isn’t an insect behavior, but one that I think is really entertaining:
For whatever reason, the juvenile hawks seem to LOVE the wind turbine! You’ll see them up there riding around like this every now and again. It makes me smile every time I see it.
I have had a great bug weekend and have more to look forward to tomorrow, so my weekend’s been going great so far. Hope you all are having excellent weekends as well!