Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting Close to the Madding Crowd

The party's over. The artesian well of nectar that for weeks on end fed all who made the journey to a batch of backyard boneset is now finally running dry. As can be seen from the crowd in this photo, and the nearly 50 different species shown in the seven previous posts, the plants generated phenomenal buzz in the insect community. It was an extraordinarily diverse gathering, and peaceful. True, a few insects became meals for spiders, but the vegetarian bees, wasps, moths, flies, butterflies and bugs grazed in harmony like herds of megafauna on the great plains of Africa.

You have to admire the ambition of a flower that tries to be, and succeeds in being, all things to all bees. The plant is like a miniature town, its stems and leaves providing cover, and avenues for ladybugs to patrol like Pacmen in an old video game. Bumble bees slept under its blossoms at night, like drunks who can't quite make it home from the local saloon.

Now the deed is done, the nectar drained, the pollen carted off and stowed. Flowers fade and seeds ripen. This Fly-By-Day operation, after mesmerizing the insect world for many weeks, finally closes down, making room for other, later flowering species to step forward and garner attention. As it happens, Late-Flowering Boneset--a different species of Eupatorium scattered here and there across the Princeton landscape--is just opening for business.

Boneset Ants

This seventh post cataloging creatures attracted to flowering boneset shows a couple kinds of ants. The second one was probably part of a nearby hatching.

One insect I didn't get a photo of--the "weird one that got away"--was seen only once, and looked like a cross between an oversized mosquito and an undersized, white and black crane fly.

Add these three and we're up to 48 distinct species on seven boneset plants in one Princeton backyard.

My apologies, by the way, to any and all who actually know anything about insects and spiders, for the questionable way I bunched these bugs in rough categories. Names will be attached to photos as this botany-type blogger becomes enlightened about the bewildering variety of insects and spiders out there.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Boneset Butterflies and Moths

The sixth in a series of posts cataloging all the varied life attracted to a backyard boneset plant. The last two are probably the same, but one was bluer than the other, so both are included.

The kind of butterfly in the fourth photo was by far the most common--essentially present all day long.

These five beauties, plus one I haven't tracked down a photo of, bring the count to 45.

Boneset Spiders

Not all the life drawn to boneset is looking for nectar. Nature being what it is, it's only natural that a few predators would show up, lurking just under the blossoms, or building miniature webs. Some are better disguised than others. (It may take awhile for you to find the spider in the first photo.)

Most seem content to sit still, even if a potential prey comes nearby. Maybe they already had a meal before I happened along. Collectively, they extend the food chain at this backyard oasis to three (plant nectar -- pollinator -- spider).

Seven kinds of spiders or spider-like creatures raises the total count to 39.

The creature in this last photo is who knows what, but doesn't appear to be an insect.

Bees On Boneset

The most numerous insects crowding the boneset flowers for weeks on end during this unusually cool August were bumble bees and honeybees. There were also lots of tinier bee-like creatures zigzagging across the plant or landing to feast at length. With those, it was very hard to tell if they were all the same kind or could be distinguished one from another in some way. Note the sacs of pollen on the legs of the honey bees and bumble bees.

These three bees raise the total count to 32.

Flies On Boneset

This is the third post documenting and roughly grouping nearly 50 species of insects and spiders that have been visiting a cluster of seven boneset plants in my backyard.

No other wildflower in my backyard, with the possible exception of the meadow rue that bloomed earlier in the season, has attracted anywhere near the variety and sheer numbers of species that this unassuming boneset has.

Again, the grouping of all these insects together is based on a guess as to what constitutes a fly. If all of these nine photos are of different species, then the species count rises to 29.

Update, August 30, 2009: Thanks to Keith Bayless, who provided latin names for many of these insects (see comment section)
First photo: Tachinidae: Trichopoda pennipes?
(Tachina Fly)

2 Calliphoridae: Lucilia? sp.

3 Muscidae: Coenosia?

5 Tachinidae

6 Dolichopodidae: Condylostylus

7 Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Augochlorini

8 Hymenoptera: Halictidae: Augochlorini

9 Calliphoridae: Pollenia?

Boneset Bugs and Beetles

I hope you like Boneset, which is a 4-5 foot high wildflower blooming now along streams and in my backyard in Princeton, because you're going to see a lot of it in this and accompanying posts, serving as a deceivingly bland white background for an astonishing variety of bugs, bees, wasps, flies, spiders, moths and butterflies. I started noticing so many different kinds that I decided to document and post as many as possible on this blog.

What has boneset got that all those other, more brightly colored flowers lack? Those others may draw a random bee or two, but boneset's platters of shallow, honey-scented flowers serve as a mecca for a book full of insects. One day I'll crack that book and find out what they all are. For now, some photos.

With this first of several posts documenting the variety of life attracted to a boneset, the count for kinds of bug or beetle-like insects stands at nine.

Update, August 30, 2009: Thanks to Keith Bayless who provided latin names for most of these insects! (see comment section)

First photo: Coleoptera: Cerambycidae: Megacyllene robiniae (Locust Borer--indicates that black locusts grow nearby)

2 Coleoptera: Cantharidae: Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus
(Soldier Beetle)

3 Hemiptera: Rhopalidae?
(Blog host's note: initial internet search suggests something like Harmostes reflexulus)

4 Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Phymata pennsylvanica
(Pennsylvania Ambush Bug)

5 Lepidoptera: Yponomeutidae: Atteva punctella
(Ailanthus webworm moth--a kind of ermine moth that uses Tree of Heaven as a host plant in its larval stage)

6 Coleoptera: Coccinellidae

7 Hemiptera: Cicadellidae
Note: Red-Banded Leaf Hopper (Graphocephala coccinea)

10 Coleoptera? Phalacridae?
(Note: These are referred to as Shining Flower Beetles)

11 Hemipera: Thyreocoridae
(Note: a "Negro Bug")

Ambushed by Obedient Plant

You'd think my customary route to work at Mountain Lakes Preserve would run out of surprises, but one day last week, I happened to glance to the right down an unmowed sewer right of way, and a completely unexpected sight caught my eye.

Obedient Plant, perhaps part of an old, forgotten planting near Pettoranello Gardens. It's called obedient because if you push one of the tubular blossums left or right, it will stay where you put it. The plant itself, however, is disobedient, tending to spread aggressively from where you put it in a garden.

Cup Plant--The Mark Twain Connection

It may not look particularly special, in a season crowded with yellow flowers, but this plant has traveled far and wide to get here, and is of high pedigree. Its travels began when a certain someone, visiting his fiance in Hartford, CT, spotted it thriving next to a dumpster in the parking lot behind the house Mark Twain built and lived in for much of his life, .

A discreet thinning of that thick stand traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where it joined other prairie species in a front yard. When its proud owner moved to North Carolina, he took a plant along, and gave it new digs in a wetland garden at a neighborhood park.

From there, his brother took a small clump to Wisconsin, where it thrived in another front yard on a quiet residential street north of Milwaukee.

By this time, the original plant-knapper had become a purist, reluctant to transport plant material and soil from North Carolina to his new home in Princeton, NJ, lest it contain invasive species. Missing the cupplant, he asked his brother for seed from the plant in Wisconsin. It was duly sent and planted, yet sentimentality was not enough to insure good care. Only one seedling survived the neglect, and finally was given a spot in a backyard wetland garden.

Only now, in the fourteenth year of its travels, has it finally begun to bloom here in Princeton.

CupPlant is named for the way the leaves form a cup around the stem. The cup holds water after a rain, providing a nice spot for birds to slake their thirst. It's a member of the Silphium genus, which includes other beautiful, tall prairie wildflowers like Prairie Dock and Compass Plant. A traveler seeking orientation can look at a Compass Plant's broad leaves, which line up on a north-south axis.

Though CupPlant is a native, I've never encountered it growing naturally in the field. You'll find it planted along the lakeshores of NY's Central Park, and occasionally in botanical gardens. I like to think the flower caught Mark Twain's eye one day, and that a sprig traveled home with him, on the first leg of a continuing journey.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Canal Nature Trail

A well-constructed sign, the product of a scout project supervised by the D&R Canal State Park ranger, greets trail users just off Harrison Street. I've been meaning to fill it with flyers full of information about what grows along the trail, but for now a blog post will have to do.

Near the sign is a swath of Switchgrass--a member of the tall-grass prairies.

Take the trail this time of year, and you may encounter Ground Nut, a native bean, growing near the lakeshore.

An anonymous beetle on an ironweed blossom.

A flowering Winged Sumac, whose leaves will turn radiant red in a couple months.

A goldfinch gorging on something in the cutleaf coneflowers--maybe the immature seeds. All of these wildflowers were getting mowed down until the state park ranger, Stephanie Fox, agreed to reduce mowing of areas away from the trails to once a year in the dormant season. This turned out to be a great way to save fuel and time while allowing an impressive variety of native wildflowers to prosper.