Spring has sprung and bees are buzzing. Honeybees forage during winter’s warmer days, but native bees take a break from their duties, being safely tucked away in nests of wood or soil, or waiting to emerge from enclosures of plants. As days lengthen and warm, they make their way into gardens. This early spring, I’ve observed several native bee species that I regularly see during the growing season. The first ones who show up to work are the tiny black carpenter bees (Ceratina), followed by a variety of Green Sweat bees, like this emerald beauty, perhaps an Osmia ribifloris.
This type of metallic green bee belongs to the Halictidae family of bees and are common in gardens with a variety of flowers for nectaring and pollen gathering. Bees who forage from a wide array of plants are polylectic. As they visit flowers, females gather pollen on their legs (which you can see in the photos) for their nests. This one is working the blooms of Giant Spiderwort, Tradescantia, but I’ve seen her kind on other flowers.
Her whole body is curled around the anther of the bloom where the pollen is located, all-in to her goal of gathering pollen. A front on photo, while not crystal clear, allows us to glimpse her face. She looks determined in her work, as she packs her little legs full of golden pollen.
These shiny, metallic bees are fast flyers, but observable and not at all rare. They and their cousin metallic bees love a blooming garden.
More than a collection of color and collaboration of texture and form, a garden is the base for life. Providers of pollen, donators of nectar, and deliverers of foliage, plants are foundational partners for biodiverse ecosystems. Insects, as well as other wildlife, are direct beneficiaries of the botanical bounty, frequently repaying that bounty with their own pollination and reseeding gifts.
This green gathering of groundcovers all serve as fuel for others in my garden’s seasonal story.
The plant with the petite sky-blue flowers is a Leadwort plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. It meanders through several areas of my garden, dollops of blue attracting small native sweat bees. The bright green, lobed foliage at bottom left of the photo belongs to Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, which is currently not blooming. Its fuzzy, lavender-blue blooms will be available for the late summer/autumn migrating monarchs, as well as for a wide variety of other butterflies and bees. The groundcover with the charming clam-shell, variegated leaves–the majority plant in this particular group–is a White-veined Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia fimbriata, a common non-native host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor.
Alongside some dainty pops of blue on the plumbago, the White-veined pipevine feeds Pipevine caterpillars, like the chubby fella below. This year I have enough of the pipe vine that the cats haven’t completely denuded it as they munch their way to adulthood, but they certainly have eaten plenty of leaves to the stems.
Once the caterpillars eat their fill and morph through their various instars, they follow their chemical signals and settle in a place to metamorphize into a different form of themselves. This one strung itself to the limestone just outside the frame of my back door. It traveled far from its feeding place to get to this spot and I wonder: why here, adjacent to the door? It’s an open spot. potentially vulnerable to predators, less hidden than on a plant, like a stem or an under-leaf. Chrysalises are much better camouflaged in the garden than attached to an open wall. Nevertheless, the caterpillar was resolute in its choice, working to moor itself there on its journey to a new, winged self.
The caterpillar also chose to begin changing during a stormy 48 hours; it strung its string, but remained in the J formation through that cooler, wetter period.
In time, the chemical changes happened, the chrysalis formed, and it remained stationary–though not static–for almost two weeks. The chrysalis emitted light and color as it transitioned, sometimes golden, sometimes green, sometimes dark, but always a little different from the day before.
I missed the debut of the adult, having overslept a bit during the premier morning; butterflies emerge with the sun’s rise; gardeners, not always. At 8am, it was there, drying its wings, waiting for the right time to take flight.
The butterfly did fly later that morning, though I’m not convinced it was entirely ready. I bumbled out the door, focused on some back garden chore, and the startled insect winged its way off of the limestone and over the garden, the remaining drops of its successful chemistry experiment scattering in the sunlight.
I’ve left the shell of the transmutation in place, the remnant of caterpillar observable in form, the memory of brilliant butterfly in warm, gauzy colors.
Late in a day, once the sun lessened its August gaze on the garden, I spied this skipper on a sunflower. It wasn’t nectaring, nor did it fly away as I watched. Was it settling in for an evening’s rest? Perhaps. Everyone, even busy pollinators, need their rest.
I think this skipper is a Eufala Skipper, Lerodea eufala, as described by the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. The site describes the Eufala as plain grey-brown, with several vague spots. But, it could be a Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris, and if so, probably a female, as the same website mentions three “cloudy” white spots on the forewing. Both species are widespread in their North American distribution and common in Texas. Both skippers belong to the same Lepidoptera Family (Hesperiidae) and Subfamily (Hesperiinae). As well, these skippers use grasses or grass-like plants as their host plants, which are plants the eggs are laid on and that hatched larvae feed upon. The adult food sources differ just a bit, with the Eufala being the one who feeds from flowers the composite family of plants–plants like sunflowers.
I photographed top, bottom, and at each side, rushing my efforts in case the skipper became annoyed and took flight. It remained motionless.
I enjoy the intellectual exercise of identifying insects, even with my frustratingly limited background on types, species, and families. Thankfully, with a click of my mouse or a swipe of my phone, there are plenty of resources available when I’m searching for an answer to an insect question. In a case like this one, where the object could be one thing, or perhaps another, and where the identifier doesn’t have the training (or patience…), the answers for this amateur activity aren’t always definitive. And that’s okay.
I enjoyed watching this unobtrusive beauty: its quiet presence against the showoff summer flower was satisfying. While sleuthing insect answers increases my knowledge and appreciation of the garden’s goings-on, ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I know exactly what sort of critter rests on the flower. The skipper’s existence is valuable because it is.