Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 20 July 2015

Life on a milkweed

I'm a big fan of milkweeds. There are 9 species that are native to southwestern Ontario, some of which are quite rare. The most common species guessed it...Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). It can vary in colour......

...but they all seem to be very fragrant. To me, it seems to be the most fragrant of all of the Asclepias species, and judging by the number of pollinators and others that can be found on it during the time it flowers, it is quite fragrant to all of these insects as well.

Fortunately I have a dozen or more plants in my yard, which enables me to keep close tabs on what insects are visiting, and many of the following photos were taken there. But whenever I am out in a natural area, I try and take a look to see what I can find and photograph on the milkweeds there.

Some of the critters are quite tiny. This first image shows the Ailanthus moth, which is named for its association with Tree-of-heaven. This tree is not native, but does well in disturbed areas and abandoned city lots. They are also invasive in even higher quality natural areas, unfortunately, but at least the moth is colourful.
Ailanthus moth
This next one is a very small day flying moth, called a Currant Clearwing. The larvae feed on raspberries, which we have in fair abundance in our yard.
Currant Clearwing
 An even tinier flying insect is this iridescent Long-legged Fly resting on the milkweed leaf. It is incredibly fast. I couldn't use the Through The Lens flash metering system of the camera as that system sends a quick burst of light to the subject to evaluate how much light is needed before generating a second flash during the actual photo. In the less than 1/1000 sec between the initial burst and the one given during the time the photo was taken, the fly had disappeared completely out of the frame, so I had to resort to manual flash where just a single burst is given.
Long-legged Fly (Condylostylus sp)
 This next one is a One-spotted Stinkbug. I didn't get a chance to see if it lived up to its name. This was photographed at Bickford Oak Woods and is the second time I have seen and photographed one there.
One-spotted Stinkbug
 Next is the aptly named Red Milkweed Beetle. They are fairly abundant.
In a previous blog post I highlighted how death comes to insects looking for nectar. This next image shows a medium-sized bee that has just been 'caught'. Note its right hind leg which is outstretched behind and up into the flower. The bee struggled and struggled and eventually was able to escape.

Even butterflies can end up with their legs caught. This Mourning Cloak in the next image
is a good-sized butterfly, but it was caught. At first I just thought it was busily feeding on the nectar, but after awhile I realized it couldn't get away. It struggled for a long time. I eventually gently grabbed its leg and tugged just enough to get its leg out intact, whereupon the butterfly moved over to an Echinacea plant nearby and just sat there for the longest time, presumably exhausted by its struggle and trying to decide whether the nectar at that fragrant milkweed was worth the risk.

Mourning Cloak
 Other butterflies include this Banded Hairstreak, only the second one I have noted in our yard.
Banded Hairstreak
Northern Broken-Dash Skipper
Question Mark
Tawny-edged Skipper (tentative ID)
 Sometimes one comes across a more vicious looking creature. While prowling around looking for something tiny to photograph, I came across this cluster of Earwigs tucked in waiting for darkness so they could head out searching for plant or insect matter to feed on. Those pincers are impressive!

Another impressive looking insect is this quite large Great Golden Digger Wasp. Most members of the bee and wasp family that are found here are mostly interested in the nectar or other insects. I've never been bothered even though I am using a macro lens and flash. Moving slowly and carefully is the key, I think. There is one extremely large bluish black wasp that I have yet to photograph, but when it comes around it is constantly on the move and I haven't been able to get close enough....yet.
Great Golden Digger Wasp
 This next critter is one of the several different kinds of Flower Long-horned Beetles that can be found visiting flowers. Characteristic of this group is the very long antennae, usually at least half the total length of the insect's body.

Flower Long-horned Beetle

It looks like I can expect another generation of Red-banded Leafhoppers on my milkweed next season!
Red-banded Leafhopper

We don't have any squash growing in our yard, but we had this Squash Vine Borer, another type of day-flying moth, visiting the milkweed.
Squash Vine Borer moth
There isn't much water near by, but we get the occasional dragonfly. This female White-faced Meadowhawk is just using the milkweed as a resting place, and probably waiting to launch itself out to capture a flying insect for its next meal.

Milkweeds are indeed, great places to look for wildlife!


  1. I think your Tawny-edged Skipper is almost certainly a Crossline Skipper.

  2. I would tend to lean towards Crossline Skipper as well. However, always better to see in the field!
    That Currant Clearwing is neat. Too bad there was not a "Past" Clearwing as well, LOL.

  3. Alan, Blake....thanks for your comments....I know you have had lots more experience with skippers than I have!