Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Plant It and the Bugs Will Come

Wildflower field - Dunson farm
Two years ago with the help of NRCS we planted five acres of native N American wildflowers with the purpose of enhancing the habitat for pollinators.  This field is now nearing its peak of flowering and the bugs are coming to sample the nectar from the thousands of flowers.

Just as an example two of those beautiful but confusing yellow 
Orange sulpher nectaring on butterfly weed
butterflies have been common in 
this field, the orange sulphur and the sleepy orange.  But butterflies are not just looking for nectar.  I found one silver spotted skipper on our front porch nearby that was obtaining sodium salts and other needed metabolic wastes by drinking fluid from a bird dropping!  This may seem bizarre but nectar as a food is deficient in some substances.  Talk about empty calories!
Sleepy orange butterfly

Other interesting insects are also present on plants in this field. Elderberries have come in as volunteer plants and have attracted one of their spectacular pests which is the elderberry borer.  Its larvae live in the plant stems and roots and it apparently picks up toxins from the elderberry and uses these to protect itself from predators.  It advertises its toxicity by bright warning colors.  This is one of the so-called long horn beetles, which really have long antennae not horns.  
Elderberry borer
There are also dragonflies in the field which might surprise you since they need water to lay their eggs and for the larvae to develop.  The female widow skimmer is feeding in this terrestrial habitat while the males hang out at nearby ponds protecting their territories and mating with females which periodically visit the ponds.  The females can thus avoid some competition for food with the males.

Female widow skimmer
So our created wildflower meadow is a busy microcosm of insect  life and provides a great lesson on the inter-relationships of life and our ability to improve habitats by changing the plant species present.

Bill Dunson

Silver spotted skipper drinks from bird poop

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