There is SO much milkweed coming up at work! Just look at that:
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I finally got Lightroom working on my computer again, so I’ve uploaded about three weeks worth of photos over the last few days. Three weeks of photos in my first ever real spring is a LOT of photos! But it also means that I have lots of photos I can choose from for Friday 5 this week. I decided to go with 5 I took today. I had gone out with my camera to photograph the dogwood trees for a piece I was writing about the trees for my work “blog,” but I went to look at the common milkweed to see if there was anything interesting monarch activity happening yet. I didn’t find any monarch eggs or larvae, but I did find several other insects! They included…
I have no idea what the earwigs are up to recently, but they are PACKED into the tips of nearly every milkweed plant at Prairie Ridge. Lots and lots of them. And they scatter when you start to peel the leaves back to photograph them. Kinda creepy, but kinda cool too!
This is one of the many, many, many non-native ladybugs that I’ve found at Prairie Ridge in the last few weeks. There have to be thousands of these out there! We found 103 of them during a program I did on Monday, and we only looked for 20 minutes… The kids are always so shocked to learn that the majority of the ladybugs we have at our site are non-natives since it looks like such a great, natural place, but nope. It’s non-native ladybug central! Those 103 ladybugs we found? Every single one was a seven-spotted ladybug, like the one you see in the photo above. I can’t even begin to describe how many of these we’re finding, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: they may be non-native, but I still kinda like them anyway. After all, how can you hold a grudge against a ladybug?!
Speaking of non-natives, the kudzu bugs are also visitors in our area, though these are quite unwelcome. They’re a highly destructive pest species of several plants (including kudzu, which is also non-native and highly invasive – the only silver lining to having kudzu bugs in the US!) and are spreading across the southeastern US. I saw hundreds of these today, all over the common milkweed, bronze fennel, and a few other plants. One of my coworkers told me about a tree that is covered with them somewhere on the grounds and said it was almost too much to look at. She’s an entomologist too, so it must be spectacular if she said it was gross! Of course, I really want to go see that tree now. To me, looking at insect infestations is sort of equivalent to how many people can’t help but look at car accidents: you are morbidly fascinated, even if it makes your skin crawl.
I’m honestly not sure what kind of stink bug this is as it seemed awfully small for a brown marmorated stink bug (also a pest in the southeast – we’ve got a lot of problems like that!), but has a lot of the right markings… Regardless, I thought this little guy was rather handsome. I have a soft place in my heart reserved for the true bugs and think they’re adorable. What can I say?
There are long-legged flies all over the grounds at work recently! I’ve seen hundreds of them myself, and that’s just in the upper parts of the ground that are easily accessible from my office. These little guys are gorgeous though! I caught this one in the shade, but in the sun they sport iridescent bronzes and greens and blues. These flies are also predators of other small insects, which makes them so much more than just a pretty face. :)
I saw several other fly species in the milkweed, as well as a wonderful treehopper that I wasn’t able to photograph before it got away. Then a few minutes later I came across a pipevine swallowtail laying her eggs on the woolly pipevine and got to watch her as she carefully deposited her eggs on a tender young leaf stem. I even saw a bunch of dragonflies and damselflies out over the grasses as I headed back to my office. What a great way break from working on my computer! I hope some of the rest of you get to take insect breaks now and then too. :)
A few weeks ago, I helped a coworker do a training workshop for the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. She’s been doing MLMP for multiple years, so she knows more about it than I do, but I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the project since my arrival in North Carolina. It was a lot of fun teaching the workshop too! The attendees seemed really happy to be identifying monarch caterpillars in the classroom, then doing it some more outside. I think everyone went home feeling a sense of accomplishment, so I considered it a success!
The day following the workshop was a Saturday and, since my coworkers and I have to take turns doing weekend shifts, it was my turn to work the weekend. When it came time to take a break, I did what I never had a chance to do during the workshop: I took my camera down to the milkweed where the attendees had found so many of their monarch larvae and shot some of them. It was raining a little, but that didn’t deter me! And I’m glad it didn’t because I saw a ton of great stuff on that milkweed, including several predatory species that were presumably eating the excessively abundant oleander aphids:
These predators included…
This is THE classic eater o’ aphids, and here you can indeed see one happily munching on an aphid. It certainly had a lot to choose from! It’s fun to remember that although so many people think of ladybugs as cute and adorable little beetles, they’re also predators that mercilessly chow down on other insects. Nom nom nom!
There were several of these syrphid larvae on the milkweed:
According to our milkweed insect field guide (because what do I know about terrestrial fly larvae?), these flies are predators of aphids. Go little fly, go! Eat those aphids! The more you eat, the more milkweed there is available for hungry little monarchs. That fly will, as I understand, metamorphose into one of those great little yellow and black flies that hover a few feet above the ground. I love everything about this larva, including the fact that you can see its digestive tract right through the exoskeleton. Super cool!
This lacewing wasn’t shy about its role as a predator and went scurrying about the leaves in search of aphids to eat. I saw it catch and eat one, though I was so fascinated that I forgot to take a photo. Oops! Just imagine that lacewing with a nice, fat aphid in its mouth as it sucked down the aphid juice. They’re fantastic little predators! If you’re a gardener, these insects should become your best friends.
Unlike the lacewing No. 1, lacewing No. 2 apparently felt the need for a disguise. If you look carefully you’ll notice that all that junk up on its back is discarded aphid exoskeletons, aphid husks! I wasn’t able to find one of them, but some of these lacewings were positively covered in aphid husks so that you would never even expect an insect to be tucked away in the pile. I am not sure whether these eat the aphids and then throw the husks on their backs (a sort of less permanent prison tattoo indicating the number of inmates this lacewing has killed) or scoop them up off the leaves and chuck them up there. Either way, this lacewing was meandering more slowly around the leaf as it sought an aphid to eat than the lacewing above. It was really fun finding two lacewing species with two totally different personalities!
This was one of the smallest spiders I’ve ever seen! It’s smaller than the aphids, and MUCH smaller than my fingers (which look positively enormous in this shot!), but it seemed to be going after the aphids nonetheless. I can’t tell you anything more about this spider except that it was darling. Look how tiny it is! Adorable.
Milkweed is positively crawling with insects! Apart from the aphids and their predators, I also saw ants herding aphids, a variety of wasps that seemed to be attempting to parasitize the aphids, some predatory flies, and a bunch of true bugs that were eating the milkweed. Who knew that milkweed was such a battleground where every insect is in a life and death struggle for survival? If you have milkweed in your area, I encourage you to visit it. You’re likely to see some really cool things!