We spent a beautiful morning walking along the St. Croix river at Afton State Park recently, and I noticed that it seems more like fall weather now, and a lot less like summer. What a difference a couple of weeks makes in the climate here.
In the Minnesota backyard, some of the summer blooms are in their full glory, particularly the purple coneflower. Butterflies and bees are drawn to these flowers…
There are lots of trails to explore in the Lake Tahoe basin, and we took the grandkids on a “walk” from their cabin on Fallen Leaf lake all the way to a swimming beach on Lake Tahoe — an almost 7 mile hike. Naturally, there were a number of stops to rest and swim at places along the way, and there was a promise of ice cream at the end of the hike, and that’s all it took to get the kids there.
Although we have been a little early in some places and a little late in others, we still have seen some of the spring wildflower show as we travel.
The Grass Lake slough at Snail Lake regional park is teeming with butterflies, especially Monarchs, which may be congregating here for their southward migration. The Monarchs especially seem to like the meadow blazing star and don’t even mind sharing it with a lot of other butterflies, bees, etc.
But one of the many Monarch butterflies I photographed wasn’t a Monarch, but a Monarch mimic, the Viceroy, and these two unrelated species ARE difficult to tell apart. Can you spot the difference(s)?
The biggest difference in coloration of the two species is the bold black horizontal (sort of) stripe on the hind wing of the Viceroy, seen from above or below. The thick black lines on the hind wing of the Viceroy are similar to those of a female Monarch but are much bolder than the male Monarch’s, which also has a distinctive dot on each hind wing. In addition, Viceroy butterflies are smaller in size, only about 2/3 the size of a Monarch.
But where Monarch caterpillars grow up eating milkweeds containing poisonous cardiac glycosides which they sequester in their bodies (and wings), Viceroy caterpillars eat willow, poplar, and cottonwoods — not at all poisonous. Bird predators find Monarch butterflies extremely distasteful and will regurgitate or spit them out. Viceroy butterflies that most closely resemble their poisonous cousins in coloration are better protected from predation, and thus, the mimics survive to reproduce.
And then there are these two, apparently dissimilar butterflies, flitting around the same plants, often displacing each other from the same flowers.
Not at all look-alikes, in fact, color-wise, they couldn’t look more different, except for the pattern of white dots around the margin of the wings and the distinctive iridescent blue splashes of color on the back end of the hind wings. So, what’s going on here?
Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies are almost always yellow with black stripes. Females on the other hand vary between yellow morphs and black morphs. And, the black morph is more commonly found in the southeastern U.S. where a similar-colored, poisonous and unpalatable Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly occurs. These are the “look-alike” models for the Tiger Swallowtail (and other Swallowtail butterfly species) to copy. Interestingly, the proportion of female black morphs of the Tiger Swallowtail is higher in southern populations because of genetic (sex-linked) process that makes black morph females produce mostly black morph females, and yellow females produce mostly yellow females!
Bottom line: you have to look closely when identifying a butterfly, because it might be a mimic!
While waiting for the hummingbirds to show up to have their photos taken last week, I got plenty of time to watch some insect pollinators in action. Some plants are obviously not fussy about what or how many pollinators they attract, so they put out a vast array of flowers — like a buffet table.
But some plants are fussier about which pollinator they cater to and which they can physically exclude. It was amusing to watch several different bee species work the plants with tubular flowers, especially the ones with deep necks, like Salvia and Bee Balm.
Sometimes smaller is better, as far as pollination of the flower is concerned, because the smaller honeybee does a better job of contacting the flower’s reproductive parts and transferring pollen from one flower to the next.
Lobelia flowers were a perfect fit for the smaller worker bumblebees, but that didn’t keep larger-bodied bumblebees from trying to get its nectar.
This bumblebee is too big to fit into the flower opening, while another, smaller worker bumblebee, (below) crawls right in. And notice how nicely that smaller bee contacts the protruding (white) stigma (the female reproductive part) of the flower as it enters and exits. No doubt this bee will transfer pollen effectively.
Meanwhile, tiny little forget-me-not flowers, with their miniscule central opening, require the services of small bees with slender tongues to reach the chamber with the nectar. Sweat bees are just the right size, and I found two different species hovering and probing the flowers.
I own a suite of lenses I use for different purposes with my DSLR camera (a Sony a7iii), but when I travel, taking them all along would weigh me down. The solution! The new Sony rx10 (Mark 4), a relatively light-weight, fixed lens camera that does it all with a 24-600 mm Zeiss zoom lens — landscapes, telephoto, and unexpectedly wonderful up-close macro photography as well. OMG, I’m sold.
Look how this camera does 600 mm macro photography…
I thought I needed to stand at least 6 feet away, like I would with my DSLR + zoom lens combo, in order to get the camera to focus at 600 mm, but that is not the case.
New camera, new opportunities. And next, new vistas, as we journey to South America for some quality time with rare birds and mammals in Brazil.
Quite a few years ago now, the city decided our street needed a walking trail, not just a mere sidewalk, along the roadside. As a consequence, residences lost 10-20 feet of their front yards, and some embellishments like granite boulders or brick walls were added to separate hillsides from walking trails. Somehow this spurred a roadside gardening movement, and the result is a long boulevard of very attractive gardens which have become a mecca for bees and butterflies.
We left the delightful warm weather in Lima for the steamy jungle in northeastern Peru, where plants thrive, insects diversify to eat them, and birds that eat both the insects and or the plants adopt outlandish colors and decorative feathers to show off. In other words, we are immersed in DIVERSITY.
We headed down the Amazon river about an hour from Iquitos (in northeastern Peru) by motor boat, to Explorama Lodge, where we would stay in non air-conditioned lodging, with cold showers to cool us down after trekking through the steamy jungle. Boat trips out on the river and walks through the rain forest provided opportunities to see some of that diversity.
Are you seeing a pattern here of vividly bright colors of tropical flowers and animals? I wonder why that is? Your thoughts?
I count it as a good omen that the first animal I saw on this trip to Peru was a Monarch butterfly.
Walking among the high rise buildings and city industry of the Miraflores area of Lima, the only living things to be seen were people and plants. So when we stumbled across a park dedicated to the fallen defenders of the city during the War of the Pacific between Peru and Chile in 1881, I was delighted to find a few birds in the trees and a few Monarchs nectaring on the Lantana blossoms.