Posts Tagged ‘insect’

The Milkweed Community

May 13, 2015
Monarch butterfly on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Monarch butterfly on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

The monarch season is coming, and many gardeners throughout the country are getting ready to welcome the arriving butterflies with milkweeds lovingly cultivated in their gardens. They also brace themselves to battle whatever ills may affect the caterpillars. Milkweed bugs and milkweed beetles are seen with hostility. The “dreaded” tachinid flies, and “hated” stink bugs infuriate gardeners even more. Aphids are not welcome. Lady beetles and lacewings generate mixed feelings because they feed on aphids but they are not loath to snack on some monarch eggs or small caterpillars.

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata) © Beatriz Moisset

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata)
© Beatriz Moisset

It is important to take a look at entire ecosystems, not just single species as Carole says in “Saving the Monarch Butterfly

“The Monarch Butterfly is in deep trouble, and many passionate organizations have been created to save this single species. But a focus on protecting habitat instead of concentrating on a single species will provide lasting benefits for all species of wildlife and the native plant communities that support them, a far more worthy effort to many environmentalists and wildlife gardeners.”

So, let us take a quick look at some members of the milkweed community. Despite the formidable defenses these plants have, many species have coevolved with them and can use them as food. They incorporate the milkweed toxins and use them to deter their enemies. In turn, many predators have also coevolved and can eat the milkweed eaters. An entire food chain has developed this way.

Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

Milkweed longhorn beetles on common milkweed © Beatriz Moisset

Milkweed longhorn beetles on common milkweed
© Beatriz Moisset

Most monarch lovers are familiar with the brightly colored milkweed bugs and milkweed longhorn beetles. Bear in mind that these insects are represented by a fairly large number of species. That is, there are more than just one milkweed bug and one milkweed beetle. A few other beetles also feed on milkweeds, and several moths also do so, among them the tussock moth and the delicate cycnia.

Tussock moth caterpillar © Beatriz Moisset

Tussock moth caterpillar
© Beatriz Moisset

Sooner or later, those who raise monarch caterpillars are bound to meet two insects which will make them unhappy; one is a predator, the spined soldier bug, the other a parasite, the tachinid fly, Lespesia.

The spined soldier bug, Podisus maculiventris, is a good hunter of caterpillars and beetle grubs. It has a sharp beak with which it impales its victims. It injects some saliva which turns the inside of the prey into a smoothie and so it proceeds to drink this nutritious cocktail. The sight of a shriveled monarch caterpillar hanging from the beak of a stink bug causes great distress to the gardener.

Predatory stink bug, Podisus maculiventris on goldenrod. © Beatriz Moisset

Predatory stink bug, Podisus maculiventris on goldenrod.
© Beatriz Moisset

Podisus maculiventris juvenile (nymph) feeding on dogbane caterpillar © Beatriz Moisset

Podisus maculiventris juvenile (nymph) feeding on dogbane caterpillar
© Beatriz Moisset

The tachinid fly mentioned above goes by the name of Lespesia. It lays its eggs on caterpillars of a large number of species. The tiny fly larva digs inside and proceeds to eat its victim until it reaches full size. Then it comes out of the dying caterpillar and dribbles a sticky trail until it drops to the ground. Not a pretty sight.

Tachinid fly, Lespesia © Stephen Luk

Tachinid fly, Lespesia
© Stephen Luk

Tachind fly, Lespesia, Puparium and parasitized tent caterpillar's cocoon © Stephen Luk

Lespesia puparium and parasitized tent caterpillar’s cocoon
© Stephen Luk

Although these two insects on occasion kill some monarchs, we should not hate them. Actually, their diet is so diverse that it includes a number of pests. They are both used as pest controls for this reason and even sold for this purpose. Podisus is known to eat Mexican bean beetles, European corn borers, diamondback moths, corn earworms, beet armyworms, fall armyworms, cabbage loopers, imported cabbage worms, Colorado potato beetles, and velvetbean caterpillars. The tachinid fly is reported to feed on tent caterpillars, armyworms, cutworms and corn earworms.

Nature is far more complicated than it appears at first sight. It may seem paradoxical, but the spined soldier beetle and the Lespesia fly are indirectly the friends of monarchs, because they help cut down on pesticides. Moreover, we must remember that they have coexisted with monarchs for eons without driving them to extinction. The same can be said about the milkweed herbivores –beetles, bugs and moths. They haven’t driven milkweeds to extinction and they are not likely to do so. We are the ones that pose a threat to milkweeds and to monarch butterflies with our pesticides, habitat destruction and introduction of invasive species.

Let saving the pretty butterfly be the portal to saving the entire community, all the creatures that creep and crawl, the ones that jump or fly and even the ones that kill or get killed. Let us embrace the web of life in its totality, with all its beauty and ugliness.

Delicate cycnia © Beatriz Moisset

Delicate cycnia
© Beatriz Moisset

Additional readings
You may find this Flickr album interesting: Milkweed Visitors
More members of the milkweed community
The monarch butterfly as part of the food web: Monarchs and their Enemies

This article first appeared in Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens

Beginners Guide to Pollinators

January 13, 2014

Cover_edited-2.web

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Lulu.com

Available at no cost during Pollinator Week, June 20-26, 2016

An Easy Guide to the Most Frequent Flower Visitors

April 3, 2013

Cover_edited-2.web

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors. Beatriz Moisset

An illustrated beginner’s field guide to insect flower visitors, including pollinators. The guide provides concise descriptions, photos and life history information of the most common insects found visiting flowers. It includes time of year, geographic area and favorite flowers. Also mentioned are those that act as pollinators and whether they may sting.

Available at Amazon Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Lulu.com,

August 6, 2012

Polinizador's Blog

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments…

View original post 862 more words

Lady Bugs or Lady Beetles

August 3, 2012

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata)

Polished Lady Beetle (Cycloneda munda)

Lady bugs have gained the affection of grownups and children alike. These colorful beetles go by other names such as lady beetles, or even ladybird beetles. Probably the most accurate one is lady beetle since it is a beetle, not a bug.

There are different kinds of lady beetles; most are brightly colored with a pattern of red with black spots, such as the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle; in a few this pattern is reversed. Others have some orange or yellow instead of red. There are even a few that lack spots altogether, like the Polished Lady Beetle, or that are mostly black.

Spotted Lady Beetle (Coleomegilla maculata)

They are fairly roundish, although a few have an oval shape, like the Spotted Lady Beetle. The smallest ones are about 0.04 in but the most familiar ones are larger, around 0.3 to 0.4 in.

Spotted Lady Beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata)

Their babies or larvae don’t look like the adults at all. They look more like little alligators. They are rarely found on flowers because most of the time they stay on foliage or stems eating their favorite food, aphids.

Although they don’t distinguish themselves for being good pollinators, they are prized by gardeners because of their role as pest controls. They are voracious eaters of aphids and other soft bodied garden pests.

Habitat: Gardens, fields, anywhere that aphids abound.

Season: Year round in southern states, from March to October and even November in the rest of the country.

Flowers: They are more likely to be found on foliage than on flowers, but they do visit many different kinds of them.

Back to guide

Pollinators and other flower visitors. A field guide for young people

March 26, 2011

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments and carries three pairs of legs and generally either two pairs or only one pair of wings. The abdomen is made of a series of segments.

What kind of pollinating insect is that?

Different groups of insects vary on the shape of the head, thorax and abdomen. Of special importance are the variations on the kinds of wings. Future blog entries will cover four main types of flower visitors: 1. bees and wasps, 2. flies, 3. butterflies and moths and 4. beetles.

Bee, hairy, pollen combs

Wasp, hairless, “wasp waist”

Bees and wasps have two pairs of membranous wings, they look like saran wrap. The main differences between bees and wasps are that wasps usually have a narrow waist (the separation between the thorax and abdomen) and are less hairy than bees. Female bees usually have a means to carry pollen, the so called pollen baskets or pollen combs, either on their back legs or on the underside of their abdomens. Sometimes these baskets are loaded with pollen.

Ants are related to wasps and resemble them in their appearance, but they have no wings. Only queens and males have wings, but they are seldom seen. Ants are also frequent flower visitors. They rarely can pollinate flowers because they don’t fly and are not likely to carry pollen a significant distance.

Fly, two wings, big eyes, very small antennae

Flies  are important pollinators too. Their wings are also membranous, like those of bees and wasps but they have only one pair instead of two. The flies that visit flowers often look like bees or wasps. They lack stingers so they are good mimics that try to fool hungry birds into thinking that they can sting. Some of the ways to tell them apart is by the eyes which are very large and by the short antennae, made of two separate parts. They are usually hairless and the legs are very thin when compared to those of bees.

Butterfly, wings with scales, knobs at end of antennae

Butterflies and moths  have wings covered by very tiny scales. If you touch them some of those scales come off and they look like dust. They have a very long tongue which they use as a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers. When not in use they keep it rolled up under their chins.

Moth, wings with scales, antennae without knobs

Butterfly’s antennae end in little knobs, while the antennae of moths can either be feathery or like a string, but never with a knob at the end. Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night, although a number of them fly during the day. Night flying moths tend to be rather colorless, but those that fly during the day can be as brightly colored as many butterflies.

Beetle, hardened wings

Beetles have two pairs of wings but the first set is modified and hardened into a wing case that covers and protects the second pair of wings.
You only see this second pair when the beetle is flying or getting ready to fly. This second pair is also membranous like those of bees, wasps and flies and they remain folded under the first pair.

Where can you find pollinators?

Field of goldenrods in the fall

Look for pollinators at flowers. The best flowers are native ones. Garden flowers, especially the double ones don’t attract many pollinators, so tulips or fancy roses are not very good for pollinators. Most pollinators are active when it is warm enough, when it isn’t windy and when the sun is shining. There are a few that fly when it is dark and visit night blooming flowers.

Common milkweed, flowers

Some flowers attract many visitors. Two of the best ones are: common milkweed and all the goldenrods.

Common milkweed blooms in June and early July. The plants can grow 6 feet tall. They have large oval leaves and bunch of flowers arranged like a ball. The flowers are pink and emit a very strong sweet scent.

Goldenrod

Goldenrodsbloom in the fall, from September to November, depending on where you live. There are several types of goldenrods; they all have yellow flowers arranged in rods that give the name to the plant. Their scent is not particularly strong but many insects are attracted to it or to the colorful display.

Asters and related flowers attract large numbers of pollinators.

Asters, blooming in the fall

Sunflowers and skipper

These include many daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, ragworts, cornflowers, as well as some plants which are not native, dandelions and thistles. The above mentioned goldenrods belong to this family, too.

Mountain mint and Queen Anne’s lace are also good attractants of a variety of flower visitors.

Bees
Honey Bee
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Halictid Bee or Sweat Bee
Mason Bees and Leaf-cutter Bees
Andrenid Bees

Wasps
Potter Wasps and Mason Wasps
Grass-carrying Wasps
Great Golden Digger Wasp
Hornets and Yellowjackets
Paper Wasps

Flies
Flower Flies or Syrphid Flies
Bee Flies
Blowflies. Lucilia

Butterflies
Monarch
Tiger Swallowtail
Hair Streaks
Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs
Silver Spotted Skipper

Moths
Hummingbird Moth
Hawk Moths
Ailanthus Web-worm Moth
Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Beetles
Tumbling Flower Beetles
Flower Long Horn Beetles
Soldier Beetles
Japanese Beetle
Ladybugs or Lady Beetles

Other frequent flower visitors
Ambush Bug
Crab Spider

——————————————–
Further readings
Overview of Orders of Insects
Native bees of North America
Bumble bees

 

You may purchase the electronic version:

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors