This week most of the students and teachers learned that our butterfly garden is hosting a few swallowtail eggs or little caterpillars and a few monarch ones as well. As of yesterday, Mr. Andrew said said that we are all set for weekend care (raising butterflies doesn’t stop on Saturday and Sunday – especially when our students are bringing them into the classroom to observe and feed).
Whatever the reason our monarch numbers seemed low thus far, we seem to be past it now. Our summer campers are checking for eggs on the milkweed in the playground garden, but Marilyn helps to check in the evenings and weekends because Monarch eggs can quickly be eaten by predators if not collected right away and brought to a safe netted environment! Along the 55th sidewalk, she’s finding tons of eggs. She’s also routinely seeing a monarch butterfly or two whenever she visits, and it and the kids are seeing them now as well.
There’s still not a lot blooming yet, so what we’re seeing is females coming to lay eggs, and also males coming to stake out and defend a territory — because they, too, know the milkweed is there and that it will attract females. The males’ territorial behavior is kind of funny because they’ll swoop at you sometimes, as if you might be another male monarch trying to intrude.
Here are a few other things Marilyn says she’s seeing recently (besides many baby bunnies). All of these photos are from online, not her own but illustrate the great ecosystem we are seeing emerge: This is a red milkweed beetle. Some people really hate them, but others find them kind of cute. They eat milkweed but not in huge amounts, from what I’ve seen, and they don’t harm the monarchs at all. Apparently they make little squeaking noises, which I’ve never heard.
This cute, tiny butterfly is called a silver-spotted skipper. The caterpillars can eat a few different plants, including one that we have in the butterfly garden. So, it could be that the butterflies are there to lay eggs on it, or hatched and developed there as caterpillars, and we just don’t realize it because it’s not one of the species we know best.
This is a carpenter bee. It’s like a bumblebee, but with a shiny rear end. It is a native species, a great pollinator (as you can see from this one’s back), and not very inclined to sting.
Here’s something else that looks scary but is actually a great friend to the garden. It’s called a great black wasp. Only the females can sting, and even then, they seldom do — only if their nest (which is in the ground) is directly threatened. The males, which we see more often, can’t sting at all. Unlike many other wasps, this one doesn’t eat other insects or bits of decaying animals — instead, it lives on flower nectar. Like in this photo, it is especially fond of nectar from milkweed flowers, so it is very helpful in pollinating milkweed so it can make its seeds. Not so much in this photo, but when you see them in person, their wings are iridescent blue.
A couple of people have said they saw praying mantises, and Marilyn saw one, too, yesterday. She thinks that the one she saw, like in this photo, was the native variety, which is much smaller than the ones we usually see. Unfortunately, we most often see the larger kind, which is an invasive species that kills native insects and even hummingbirds (!). If we do have this smaller, native one, that is great news because its numbers have been reduced, overall, because of the invasive one.
Speaking of hummingbirds, Marilyn says she saw one that looked just like this, one evening. It’s a male ruby-throated hummingbird. They’re mostly around in the morning and evening. They eat some insects, and also nectar from tube-shaped flowers they can stick their beaks into. Like monarchs, they migrate to and from Mexico each year.
Here’s one photo that Marilyn took herself, and it’s gruesome but also kind of cool. It does have a dead insect in it, so keep scrolling if you don’t want to see…
This is called a bold jumping spider, and one day, Marilyn saw this one eating a red milkweed beetle. Her guess is that the scary face on its back is a defense mechanism. When it’s not busy eating, this kind of spider is known to be curious, smart, and even “friendly” (in that it turns its head to look at you better, and doesn’t bite) with people it happens to see. They are known for their large but pretty fangs that look like big teeth, and for their eyes that are in a row across their head (wow!):
When Marilyn posted the ‘scary’ photo on Facebook, one of her friends asked who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the milkweed beetle/jumping spider scenario. The answer is that in nature, there are few or even no 100% heroes or villains. We have certain species that we prefer over others and try to help if we can, but everybody has to eat. Just like in Charlotte’s Web, for those of us who read that book, the spider can’t help how it has to make its living. Also, in this case, one reason we don’t see more damage to our milkweed from the red beetles may be because predators like this help keep beetle numbers under control. So, thank you, spider, even though we like the milkweed beetles, too.
Overall, there’s been a lot more activity lately. Campers and teachers (and all of the HPNC staff!) have enjoyed seeing it and we are excited that it will build as the summer goes on.