Timing is everything…

Last year we had an early spring (and not much of a winter), so the butterflies arrived and the bees appeared well before there were flowers to pollinate, or even leaves present as food sources for larvae.  Things were out of sync — badly, and I’m sure the insect populations took a nose dive in Minnesota as a result.

Last year, Monarch Butterflies were faced with laying their eggs on 6-8 inch tall plants.

Last year, Monarch Butterflies were faced with laying their eggs on 6-8 inch tall plants. This photo was posted on May 12, 2012.

This monarch caterpillar tried to complete its development on this tiny milkweed, which was growing too slowly to keep up with demand.  Ultimately, the caterpillar failed to metamorphose to a pupa.

This monarch caterpillar tried to complete its development on this tiny milkweed, which was growing too slowly to keep up with demand. Ultimately, the caterpillar failed to metamorphose to a pupa.  This photo was taken June 26, 2012, and posted here.

This year, spring was 4-6 weeks late here, and also late perhaps further south of us as well.  We are well into summer, the flowers blooms are peaking in home and natural gardens, but pollinators are rarely found.  My raspberries have bloomed and set fruit, and yet I never saw a bee on the flowers the entire time.  Bumblebees are mostly absent, wasps are a rarity, honeybees and other small bees almost entirely absent.  We do have a lot of bee-mimic hoverflies (Syrphidae) though.

So, I was delighted to find a female Monarch butterfly in the backyard (first one this year!), depositing her eggs on a swamp milkweed plant.  The flower heads were still a couple of days from opening, but she was not trying to insert her proboscis into them anyway (proboscis is tightly coiled in the photo).

She probed the flowers and leaves repeatedly with her antennae (to determine whether it was in fact a milkweed plant?).

She probed the flowers and leaves repeatedly with her antennae (to determine whether it was in fact a milkweed plant?).  The proboscis is coiled up under her head.

Several times I saw her purposely lower her abdomen below wing level underneath a leaf, so I assumed she was laying an egg there.  When I checked those leaves,  sure enough, there were some little cylindrical eggs sticking up from the under surface (one per leaf).  I would have taken a photo, but they were much too small for my telephoto lens.

monarch butterfly laying eggs on milkweed

You can see the curvature of her abdomen better in this photo, and even imagine that there is a little white something being extruded from the tip onto the undersurface of the flower umbel (this is pure conjecture — I don’t know that they would lay an egg in a flower cluster).  Click on the photo for higher resolution of the abdomen.

monarch butterfly laying eggs on milkweed-1

I haven’t seen many photos of butterflies posted on the various blogs I read, so I wonder if this drought of butterflies is widespread over the U.S. (or other parts of the world) this year.  There are strange climatic swings everywhere that may well influence the insect populations (drastically), and that, in turn, would be devastating for our food production.

5 thoughts on “Timing is everything…

  1. Very nice shots of these! Butterflies are plentiful here in general this year but some species are rather scarce. We don’t get Monarchs here though, darn it!

  2. Beautiful shots, Sue. So far I haven’t seen too many butterflies this year, with the exception of an occasional Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and a pair of Monarchs this weekend (plus some smaller brown woodland varieties). I am hoping to see more in the coming weeks.

  3. I’ve noticed differences in the numbers of bumble bees this year. I think we have had less this year but I think this is more because the rain and cold would be very bad for early nesting queens as we have had plenty of flowers. Also I have noticed more bee flies which I was going to post about later. The Bombylius seemed to have increased but I don’t understand why. We have plenty of butterflies.

  4. Pingback: the Monarch returns | Back Yard Biology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s