Here it is almost mid-August already, and the insects seem to have just discovered all the milkweed in the backyard. The hummingbirds prefer the orange-colored Butterfly Weed, but the butterflies, bees, wasps, and hover flies (syrphids) are buzzing the swamp milkweed.
Great Black Wasps are so large and fly so erratically around the backyard, it makes you want to keep your distance. This wasp is one of the cicada killers that capture and paralyze their prey before laying a single egg on it in an underground nest. You can read more about them in an earlier post.
Each milkweed flower has 5 hoods into which an insect could dip its tongue for nectar. The Great Black Wasp foraging technique seemed completely random as they probed flowers in a very non-systematic way. However, their foraging efforts were complicated by individuals continually buzzing each other. causing them to move to another flower head before they had finished probing all the flowers.
With their extremely long legs spread out over the entire flower head, Great Black Wasps come into contact with a number of the pollen sacs (pollinia) on the milkweed flowers, managing to remove them to carry to other flowers. The left middle leg of the wasp in the photo below has three sets of pollinia attached.
In contrast, this little Aphrodite Fritillary sat on one flower head for several minutes turning slowly almost full circle, as it systematically sampled each hood of each flower. When wasps or bumblebees approached that set of flowers, the butterfly simply flicked its wings a couple of times, and the encroaching insect moved off.
Milkweed plants provide a lot of nectar for a wide variety of insects, making the garden much more attractive to all sorts of wildlife. The flowers are brightly colored, and some have a pleasant odor. Their one drawback is their tendency to plant themselves everywhere!