At the beginning of July, the Common Milkweed that I’m allowing to grow more abundantly in my herb garden began to blossom, its hypnotic scent filling the air with an almost honey-like fragrance.
Being close to the Fourth of July in its blooming, the milkweed’s formation reminded me of the fireworks that filled the sky over and over again. I only wish those had been as silent as the milkweed.
Then again, it was hardly silent or unnoticed for the bees and ants sought the sugary nectar stored in the shell-shaped structures.
So few honeybees have I seen all summer, but as long as the milkweed was in bloom, I noticed four of them probing for the goodness hidden within.
Visitors were from every ilk, some with striped bodies,
and others covered in spiky hairs.
The pollinators included skippers . . .
Upon the plants’ leaves were Red Milkweed Beetles, this one being checked out by an ant. The bright red coloration announced the beetle’s distastefulness for he’s one of the few insects that can feed on the leaves of milkweed, store the plant’s defense chemicals and assure that he won’t be consumed.
The ant apparently discovered the beetle wasn’t worth dealing with and so climbed over it and moved on. Or maybe the beetle had accidentally rubbed against some nectar and the ant was attracted to it–for all of a second.
The milkweed flowers in my garden began to die back, but this week I discovered another place where they grow abundantly. And at least one honeybee recognized the same.
As did more long-horned Red Milkweed Beetles, and now rather than finding only one, I’ve noticed there often appear to be two working in unison to ensure a continuation of their species.
And much to my delight, I spotted sipping nectar from the Spreading Dogbane that grows beside the milkweed, a Monarch Butterfly.
And it wasn’t just one Monarch. I can’t say how many I saw in total, but I watched them for a while as they floated over the meadow flowers in their flap, flap . . .
glide routine, sometimes chasing each other or their own shadow before alighting.
Like the Clouded Sulphurs I noticed the other day, the Monarchs too sought nutrients from the gravel road, their mouthparts, aka proboscises, extended in search of minerals.
When not in use, the tubular and flexible straw that serves as a mouth curled inward, retracted as it would be during flight.
Also in the area, because it too likes the nectar of the milkweeds and other flowers offering a sweet meal, was the Monarch mimic, a Viceroy. The differences between the two: Viceroys have a wing span of about 2-3 inches, while Monarchs’ span is 3-4. And Viceroys have a black horizontal stripe that crosses near the bottom of its back wings. Well, actually, it looks more diagonal. And really, who came first? The Monarch or the Viceroy?
Also present because it too feeds on native milkweeds, a few small Silvery Checkerspot Butterflies, their wing span less than two inches.
And they also sought those road nutrients, so suffice it to say, its a butterfly habit . . . at least in this neck of the woods.
I had to eventually leave the road and meadow behind and run home to grab something, which meant an opportunity to check on my milkweed plants. Those in the kitchen garden hosted some Red Milkweed Beetles, but that was the most interesting thing I saw, besides the fact that the dried flowers were transforming into warty green seedpods. But by the front door, where more milkweed grows, I noticed first a pile of caterpillar scat on a leaf. Getting down on my knees to look underneath, I spotted a mature Milkweed Tussock Moth and its larvae feeding.
And then my heart was still, for I found a tiny Monarch caterpillar.
And near it, one that had been very hungry and seemed to have stopped eating. I can’t wait to check again and see if it’s still there–only in a transformed stage.
As I continued to look, there were more, these two clearly munching away.
They reminded me of humans eating corn on the cob for it seemed they moved back and forth as they chomped on the plant’s leaves. Monarchs, and other butterflies that feed on the green leaves in their caterpillar form, are like the Red Milkweed Beetle in that they can tolerate the chemicals and it makes them not tasty to predators.
Everywhere I looked, I began to see Monarch caterpillars in various stages of growth.
My hope is that I’ll discover chrysalises as I continue to search and eventually our yard and flower gardens and the field beyond will be full of the queen of the butterflies: Monarchs.