Today’s warm temperatures and south winds brought an orange sulphur butterfly to our garden. Normally a common butterfly, this is the first one I’ve seen all year. The orange color on the upper wing, and dark black spots help to distinguish it from other sulphur butterflies. Adults drink nectar from many species of garden flowers; this one visited garden phlox and asters. The caterpillars prefer red clover, white clover, vetches and alfalfa. Other insects seen in the garden today include a potter wasp, paper wasps, bumble bees, honey bees, metallic green bees, flower flies, cicadas and an autumn meadowhawk dragonfly.
Mist curls, rises, swirls over the Snake River in the light of early dawn and a full moon. It is the morning of the autumnal equinox. The air is calm and chilly, about 42 degrees. A touch of autumn color tints a few trees. Pileated woodpeckers and a northern flicker sound their ringing calls in the woods. A small group of black-capped chickadees gurgle softly to each other as they hunt for insects in the hazelnut bushes on the riverbank. In a few minutes, the sun will rise, the mist will vanish and the day will gradually warm to 70 degrees. But for now, the river valley is hidden and serene.
Our garden reached its peak a few weeks ago, but it’s still full of color and life in mid-September. Butterflies, many species of bees, and dragonflies are present. A tiny charcoal-colored mouse slices off the black-eyed Susan flower heads leaving long, empty stalks. (One year I found a mouse’s stash of flower heads and seeds in my garden toolbox!) A family of cardinals eats red yew berries; chipmunks and squirrels munch on the last of the beacon apples. Here are a few of the flowers and insects in our garden on this warm, sunny afternoon in St. Paul, Minnesota:
White-faced meadowhawk dragonflies patrol the garden for mosquitoes and other small, soft-bodied insects. Many years these dragonflies are active in our garden until mid-October.
Grass funnel spiders (Agelenopsis) are shy spiders that build flat webs with a funnel or tube at the back of the web. The spider rests out of sight in the funnel. When an insect lands on the web, the spider quickly captures it, bites it and wraps it in silk.
After many days without monarchs, a straggler sipped nectar from several different flower species.
A splash of bright red flashed by as I counted monarch butterflies in our garden late Wednesday afternoon. Perched in a sunny spot on the apple tree trunk, a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) fanned its wings, flew around the backyard a couple of times and landed on a lower limb of the tree.
Named for the red-bar markings on their black upper wings, red admirals also sport white marks in the upper corners of the forewings. The underside of the wings, which is often visible when the butterfly perches, is a mottled brown, tan and black, with a pink band and white spotting on the forewing.
Red admirals range from near the Arctic Circle to as far south as Guatemala. (They also live in Europe, Asia and North Africa, and have been introduced in other parts of the world.) They prefer moist areas such as fields, meadows, open woodlands, gardens and yards. Red admiral caterpillars prefer to eat nettle leaves; adults eat overripe fruit, tree sap, and the nectar of many types of flowers, such as aster, blazing star, spotted Joe-Pye weed and red clover. In Minnesota, there are one-to-two broods each year. The butterflies of the second brood are smaller and less colorful than the first brood. Most migrate to the southern states in autumn, but a few successfully hibernate in the north during mild winters. Many years, this butterfly remains active into October and I’ve seen them as early as mid-April in the spring.
For more information about the red admiral and other butterflies, visit:
Last Sunday afternoon was quiet in the garden; too cool for the loud whining of cicadas, and no wind to swish and rattle the leaves. However, a persistent high-pitched buzzing in the anemones was driving my husband nuts. Turns out it was the sound of several bumblebees releasing pollen through sonication or “buzz pollination“. In sonication, bumblebees, and other native bees, hold onto a flower with their jaws or legs, press the upper portion of their body into the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles to jar loose pollen. The freed pollen clings to the bee’s furry body. Some of it is collected in the bee’s pollen baskets to be brought back to the colony, and some fertilizes the next flower that the bee visits. (The pollen basket is located on the outside of the bee’s back leg. It’s easy to see when it contains pollen because it will be yellow, orange or red, depending on the type of pollen it contains.) Buzz pollination is essential to plants such as blueberries, cranberries and tomatoes, in which the pollen is firmly attached deep inside a tubular anther. However, bumblebees also use it to release pollen in other flowers, such as the Japanese anemones in our garden.
In addition to the buzz pollination video link in the text above, find out more about pollination and bumblebees from master naturalists Paul and Mary Meredith at VictoriaAdvocate.com.
Late Sunday morning in early September. I walk along our unpaved road next to the Snake River. The sun is hot, grasshoppers whir and click, bees drone and American goldfinches call to each other in the aspen grove. Small stands of native sunflowers (Helianthus tuberosus L.) dot the roadside. In a single group of three plants, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, I spot four species of native bees, two species of wasps, several ladybird beetles, a goldenrod soldier beetle and a northern crescent butterfly. Here’s a sampling:
One of my favorite late-summer wildflowers is the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), which grows in sunny, moist patches along the dirt road next to our cabin. The tightly closed oval flowers, which never open into a blossom, are all deep blue so far this year, but in the past, I’ve also seen powder blue, pearly white, and light pink blooms. The plants are about 18 inches tall and the flowers are clustered together at the top.
Because the blooms are narrow and closed, they primarily are pollinated by bumble bees, which are strong enough to wiggle their way into the flower. A bumble bee pollinated several of the blooms on the bottle gentian that I was photographing.