Aflutter: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2018

My heart’s aflutter as I relish the beautiful Central Texas autumn and my garden’s a flutter with late season pollinators. As is typical in autumn, there are multitudes of pollinators busily working.  Especially in the early morning hours and at sundown and afterward, there are scads of flutterings everywhere, with ghostly, diaphanous wings highlighted by whatever light is available.  Most of those active during the day are small skippers and bees, but also in the mix are a huge variety of flies, larger butterflies and moths, and other winged insects, all making the rounds of the bonanza of autumn blooms.   Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, a monthly blogging huzzah celebrating the winged, feathered, scaled, and furred which give gardens their buzz-n-hum.

I grow plants not only because I like their looks, but for what they provide for wildlife. I’m not picky about color or form–I love’em all, but I focus on plants that nourish something at some point in the growing season.

Some plants in my gardens are dynamite pollinator providers and Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, is one of them.  This Greater bee flyBombylius major, nectared with intent one cloudy afternoon throughout a patch of Frostweed.

Proboscis deep in the flowerets of Frostweed, these flies spend lots of time at the blooms.

I’ve observed a number of these fuzzy flies this fall.

The same is true for the Tachnid fly, nectaring on another pollinator powerhouse plant,  Prairie goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

Ive  primarily seen the Tachnids in the fall on goldeneye and Frostweed. I’ve nick-named them my ‘hairy-butted buddies’.

We give lots of credit to beautiful bees, butterflies, and moths, but all kinds of insects pollinate, including the lowly fly.  As well, there’s a great variety of flies, more than just the ones that annoy at picnics.

Syrphid flies are ubiquitous in my gardens during the late summer and autumn months.

This one is a Common Oblique SyrphidAllograpta obliqua, but I’ve observed other species too, which I hope to capture in photo form for next month. The blue blooming beauty is the Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea.  It’s another plant which has a long and popular blooming cycle.  Pollinators are nuts about it.

Like the Syrphids, Fiery Skippers, Hylephila phyleus, love the Henry blossoms, and their autumnal coloring complement the vibrant blue of the Henrys.

Wings spread!

Wings closed!

 

It’s a huge year for the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus.  Because of good weather conditions in their northern breeding areas, their numbers are up from the last decade or so.  While I didn’t have many come through my garden as they migrated to their wintering grounds in Mexico, enough visited and fed hungrily that I’m glad that I grow plenty of nectar plants for them to choose from.

This female nectars on the excellent wildlife plant, Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii).

Cousin to the Monarch is the Queen butterflyDanaus gilippus.  It’s more common than the Monarch and a resident of Central Texas.

I like this shot of a family reunion; Monarch and Queen enjoying a meal of Goldeneye together.

 

The prize for most common of the large swallowtails in my garden definitely goes to the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor. I grow a host plant, the White-veined Dutchman’s pipe and have enjoyed these gorgeous butterflies all growing season as they visit.  Their life-cycle for the year is coming to an end, but my Dutchman’s pipe has seeded out and the mother plants will overwinter, so there should be plenty of the host plant for next year’s butterfly babies.  I’ve already promised to share some of the seedlings with gardener buddies next spring.

 

Dressed in fall colors are a couple of year-round visitors, a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta,

The Admiral is nectaring on a Plateau goldeneye. The purple daisies in the background are Fall Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

 

…and a Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae.

The Fritillary is nectaring on a West Texas native, Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora).

 

In addition to eating, insects are mating to assure a next generation.  These two Clouded skippersLerema accius, pitched woo on the foliage of a Turk’s cap.

 

I had a difficult time identifying this lovely critter, but  I believe it’s a Four-spotted PalpitaPalpita quadristigmalis.

It doesn’t show the four spots, but that could be the limitations of my camera or that the wings are a bit tattered and the shape of the wings and body are similar to the targeted insect. I think this is one of the multitudes of early evening/nighttime pollinators, though it’s hard to tell.

Did you think I forgot about the bees?  Nope, of course I didn’t!  My honeybees are all over the place and even with our many rainy days, if just a bit of sunshine appears, so do the bees.

The Green Sweat bee, Halictidae, sports a gorgeous color which complements its food source.  These pretties have been active in the past month or two.  Some nest in wood, others in the ground.

 

This fast-flying, quick-nectaring bee was hard to catch, but I think it’s a Longhorned bee, Apidae.  The individuals I’ve seen have favored the Henry Duelberg blooms as shown here.

 

More common in my garden are the Eastern Carpenter bees.  This one is also a fan of the Henry Duelberg blooms.

That Henry Duelberg sage–it’s a pollinator winner!

 

Alongside the pollinators, some hangers-on appeared.  I typically see Obscure Bird GrasshoppersSchistocerca obscura, in the fall and this year didn’t disappoint.

Hanging on a window screen, he/she looked warily at me as I sneaked a shot.

There’s nothing obscure about this big beauty!

 

Common Green DarnersAnax junius,  dart here and there in the gardens, and when they alight, are camouflaged by foliage–hard to see, but lovely to behold once observed.  This one was easy to spot and cooperative with the photographer.

 

There is much going on in my fall garden!  What’s in your autumn or spring garden?  Share you wild happenings and don’t forget to leave a link when you comment.  Happy wildlife gardening!

Gardens are for Critters

On a recent late summer pruning foray into the garden, I was reminded of the importance of looking before cutting.  Spring-blooming Gulf Coast PenstemonPenstemon tenuis, well beyond its flowering and even its seed production time, annoyed me with its messiness. With tidying in mind and Felco pruners in hand, I prepared to snip off the offending bloom stalks, when  I saw this stunning creature, a just emerged Black SwallowtailPapilio polyxenes, drying its wings.

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I often–though not always–look before cutting, so that I don’t destroy the home or nursery of some wild thing which has decided to rest or raise a family in the garden.  It seems an easy thing to do, this business of  wildlife awareness, but pressed for time, or hot and sweaty, the goal of garden clean-up easily becomes an obsessive one.  The beauty of the new pollinator,

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…transformed from the formerly green, yellow, and black caterpillar which slinks amongst the foliage,  to its winged and adult stage ready to take on the flowering world, focused my attention on the why that I garden, not the gardening itself.

A  transformational home, newly abandoned,

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… and the knowledge that the “messy” plant provided a safe refuge for the morphing, are the  only reasons I require to continue gardening for wildlife.

 

National Pollinator Week

June 20-26 is the week set aside this year to celebrate pollinators and the important work they do.

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Syrphid or Flower fly nectaring at a Zexmenia (Wedelia hispida)

EVERY week should be a week to celebrate pollinators and the important work they do.

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Miner bee (Perdita ignota)(?)  visiting a Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

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Texas Crescent (Anthanassa texana) considering a trip to the Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Pollinators constitute the thread that holds together the world’s food web and native plants production.  Upwards to 90% of native plants are pollinated by insects, birds, and bats; 1 out of every 3 bites of food humans partake of is pollinated by (primarily) bees–honeybees, and wild, or native bees.  According to Pollinator Partnership, 1,000 different plants that humans use in a variety of ways are pollinated by pollinating animals,

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American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) at a Purple coneflower bloom

…and in the U.S. alone, pollinators produce products worth $40 billion annually.

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Two-spotted Long-horned bee (Melissodes bimaculatus) at a Purple coneflower

The bottom line is that pollination and pollinators are principal players in the good health of all eco-systems.

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Sweat bee (Augochloropsis metallica)(?) and an Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia)

What is pollination?  It’s the process whereby pollen is moved, usually either by pollinating animals or the wind, to other plants thus assuring reproduction of the plants with development of seeds and fruit–and the next generation of viable plants.

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Fly and Fall aster

Pollination produces new plant life.

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Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) resting on a Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea)

What are pollinating animals?  Pollinators include, but are not limited to: birds, bats, moths and butterflies, flies, mosquitoes (Boo!), native/wild bees, and honeybees.  There are many, many other insects that pollinate.  Additionally, in parts of China where overuse of chemicals has killed all natural pollinators, people must hand pollinate some agricultural fields.

That frightening fact should scare all of us into taking care of the Earth’s pollinators.

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Honeybee (Apis mellifera) nectaring at a Blue passion-flower (Passiflora caerulea)

We know that pollinators are declining throughout the world because of habitat destruction, over and mis-use of chemicals, certain big agriculture practices, the unfettered spread of invasive plant species and the decline of native-to-region plant species, as well as other reasons, like pollinator diseases.

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Orange Skipperling (Copaeodes aurantiaca) working at a Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

The outlook for the health of pollinators and therefore, the rest of us, is tricky at best.

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Sweat bee (Lasioglossum) (?) collecting pollen from a Clasping coneflower

 

So, what can we do?  The easiest thing is to plant for pollinators in our own home gardens, or neighborhood school gardens, or local parks–or all three, plus anywhere else you can think of.

It’s so simple!

Get rid of some (or all!) of the water-wasting turf so common in home and commercial landscapes.  Mono-culture turf feeds nothing, except for problematic insects, and requires more irrigation, more chemicals, and more effort than planting native or well-adapted flowering perennials and annuals.

Once your garden bed is prepared and planted, sit back and watch the show.  If you plant it, they will come.

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Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) working a Purple coneflower

Your garden doesn’t have to be huge, but do plant a variety of blooming plants for the whole of your growing season–the more, the merrier!

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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) visiting a Purple coneflower

It’s always best to use native plants if you have access to a local seed source or a nursery that promotes native plants.  But non-native, well-adapted blooming annuals and perennials will also do the pollinator trick.  Ask the nursery or plant provider if any pesticides were used when growing the plants you want to buy.  If so, don’t buy them and TELL the nursery why.  Pesticides and insects are not a good combination–EVER.

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Minor bee (?) nectaring at a Zexmenia flower

Contact your County Extension Agent’s office for a list of good pollinator plants for your area.  As well, locally owned nurseries are usually great sources of information on pollinator plants.  The Pollinator Partnership, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, and National Wildlife Federation are all excellent on-line sources for learning about pollinators and how you can be a part of the solution to their problems.

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Three honeybee amigos hanging out with three Purple coneflowers .

 

Pollinators are beautiful.

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Gulf fritillary visiting Clasping coneflowers

 

Pollinators are vital links in the fitness of the Earth’s eco-systems.

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Gray hairstreak resting on the foliage of Rock rose

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Minor bee (?) heading for the nectar and pollen of a Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata)

 

Pollinators deserve to live and thrive.

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Soldier beetle  (Cantharidae family) sipping nectar from a Purple coneflower

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Plant for pollinators in your garden.  Encourage neighbors and community organizations to do the same.  Lobby your local, state, and national representatives to set aside land so that these essential creatures can continue their work and contributions to the well-being of our world.

Happy National Pollinator Week!

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Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) resting on Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) foliage