Global Golden Sights

Until I spent time watching, I never realized how global a goldenrod could be. In fact, I must admit that there were years when I tried to eliminate these hardy yellow plants from the garden. After all, weren’t they weeds? You may think thus for so prolifically do they grow, but these days I prefer to think of them as volunteers who add beauty in any season. And during this season, they mimic life as we know it.

1-worker honeybee foraging

First, on sunny days European Honey Bees buzzed about. Yes, they are not native. But don’t tell them that. After all, they think they own the place.

2-honeybee

As quickly as they could, they sought nectar from the flowers and in the process, pollen clung to their hairy bodies. Aha, so in their greediness, goodness happened. How could that be? Or rather, how could that bee? (Corny jokes are forever a teacher’s forte)

3-hoverfly

As I gazed upon the minute flowers of the Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, I had to look for subtle changes of color in order to read the story. Ever a fan of the coloration of the Hover Fly, I was thrilled that I could focus in on this one. Then the realization struck–this fly wasn’t . . . flying. In fact, it was dead. And yet it still held its structure.

4-ambush bug

Looking up a stem or two, I noticed a predator in the waiting, its structure so otherworldly, much like an armored iguana. But it wasn’t a lizard.

4a-ambush bug

It was a common insect that changed position as I changed lenses. The amazing thing is that it blended in so well, but that was all part of the insect’s strategy. Did the Hover Fly’s death have anything to do with the Ambush Bug? All are innocent until proven guilty and I needed to remember that, but I still suspected I knew the perpetrator.

4b-ambush bug

For three days I stalked him as he stalked others. An Ambush Bug is willing to wait until just the right moment to attack its prey with those oversized raptorial forelegs and quickly dispatch it with a stab from his sharp beak. Who knew that in the small world of the goldenrod one needed to be ever on the alert?

6-honey bee

And still, a Honey Bee foraged and farmed.

9-Japanese Beetle

Also on a mission was a Japanese Beetle, another immigrant in the mix. And I know that if I were to point out the unique idiosyncrasies of its body structure, I’d get booed out of town. But  . . . look at those colors, the details, and especially the antennae. It’s tough being the one dude that no others appreciate.

18-Where's Waldo the spider?

For every foraging or unwanted citizen, there was one hiding in the shadows, ever ready to catch the neighbors when they were most vulnerable. Do you see the green and brown crab spider?

25-spider web

Some even set up traps to catch their prey, but after all, we are all hunters and need to dine.

10-pollen all over body

Still the Honey Bees flew in and out and chased off any others, even their siblings who got in the way. All were females, for such are the workers in their society. Ahem. Oh, excuse me. Just clearing my throat.

12-locust borer

For all the time that I watched (and really, I only spent an hour or so each day for I did have work to do) I noticed a Locust Borer on one particular plant. Females tunnel into bark to lay eggs and I probably should have taken a closer look at the quaking aspen in the garden that has been compromised by so many insects. But here’s another thing–do you see the yellow tip on its abdomen? Locust Borers don’t sting, but should you touch one it will try to bore its tail end into you as if it were a stinging insect. Silly bug.

22-Assassin bug 1

Peeking under a nearby stem, I found another seeking others–an Assassin Bug that was related to the Ambush Bug. Assassin Bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden because they act as tiny Ninjas and prey on enemies of the plants, they don’t always discriminate about their prey. The unsuspecting victim is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the action in the past, but I couldn’t always locate the little warrior, thought I knew it was somewhere among the drooped stems.

8-honey bags

And still , the Honey Bees flew, filling their sacs being their main priority.

15-drone fly 2

Not everyone could be a bee, but some surely tried to mimic their adversaries. Thus is the life of a Drone Fly that may have a bit of a hairy body, but it can’t sting. Instead, it had to outsmart its predators by being a look-alike. Such is known as Batesian mimicry, so named for the famous English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. Bates discovered this concept while working in the Brazilian Amazon.  In the course of his studies, he realized that numerous non-toxic butterflies looked identical to a few very potent types.

16-sawfly?

Other non-bees on the flowers included a rather handsome sawfly, its wings so distinctly veined.

17-honey bee moving pollen on body

But the honey bees were on the move the most and managed to control the activity of those smaller and larger by giving chase to all. Occasionally, one had to pause and dangle in order to move some pollen into its sac.

30-crab spider

Also known to dangle, for that’s what spiders do best, was another crab spider, Crab spiders may be tiny, but they can be cunning and ferocious. Like the predatory insects, waiting was the name of the arachnid’s game and I don’t doubt that this one was successful in securing its next meal.

32-inch worm

And while still in a dangling mode, there were the inch worms of varying colors to spy, most of them slithering ever so slightly among the plants flowers, but some were on the move to the leaf that was greener on the other side.

36-dead inch worm

This morning, I did discover a dead inch worm and again, like the Hover Fly that met its demise, I wondered who done it. Ambush or Assassin Bug? Those were my two choices.

39a-hover fly

I did find a live Hover Fly and its presence made me happy. There’s something about its streamlined structure and minute hairs and clear wings and hovering ability that appeal to me.

39-hover fly an dinch worm

One even demonstrated that it could share the space with an inch worm.

37-flesh fly

Equally admirable was the Flesh Fly with its brick red eyes and handsomely striped abdomen. It’s called a Flesh Fly for its habit of locating decomposing carcasses and laying its eggs. I have to admit that thinking about that and the maggots to follow gives me a chill.

40a-metallic green sweat bee

A metallic green Sweat Bee flew in periodically, but never stayed long. Thankfully, it chose to ignore me. In fact, considering how close I was and in the faces of so many, as always, the insects and spiders left me alone. I, on the other hand, continued to stalk them.

42-paper wasp

Surprisingly, even the rather aggressive Paper Wasp ignored me. I could hardly ignore it. Whenever he flew, most other flying insects performed a mini dance, flying up, swirling down and then settling again.

But take a moment to look at that body. It’s as if some insects wear a coat of armor. And in the wasp’s case that coat was dusted with pollen, just as nature intended so fertilization could occur.

44-bumblebee

Even the aggressive Bumblebee let me bumble about without incident. In my three days of watching, there were plenty of Bumblebees buzzing, but they tended to visit all of the surrounding flowers. Today, however, in a frantic frenzy, one sampled this flower and that along the goldenrod stem.

45-locust borer waving

While the Locust Borer I mentioned earlier spent the last three days on the same plant, a second one flew in today and settled on a goldenrod about seven feet away from the first LB. Will they meet? I assume so, but in the meantime, it waved.

41-assassin bug

And in a different location than the first day, I found an Assassin Bug. The same one? Perhaps. But again, no food. Still, it waited.

50-ambush bug

As did the Ambush Bug.

39-half-inch worm and ambush bug

In three days, it hadn’t moved far, but finally decided to take a different stance. To its left, a half-inch worm stayed in one spot, though it kept changing position. And I kept waiting–why didn’t the Ambush Bug grab the little thing and suck its guts out?

46-ambush dining on hover fly

Because . . . it was waiting for a more substantial meal I later learned. And my question was answered. What killed the first Hover Fly? An Ambush Bug. And this afternoon it worked on another. Drats. But, in this insect or arachnid eat insect world, finding a meal and gathering energy from it was the most important thing.

43-larvae of brown-hooded owlet moth

Much to my delight because I was looking–I spied the larvae of a brown-hooded owlet moth. Besides a monarch caterpillar, oh and a sphinx moth, and . . . and . . . the brown-hooded owlet moth caterpillar is one of my favorites.

33-forage looper moth

Its mature form wasn’t quite as attractive.

35-I see you

But still, what a sight to see tucked in among the goldenrods.

The garden may be small, but its offerings were global in nature when you think about it. Ah, those golden sights. Worth a wonder.  (And I left a few out!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Rulers

In late summer/early fall, a variety of goldenrods shower gardens and fields with their sunshiny flowers.

Unfortunately, they’ve been wrongly blamed as the culprits of hay fever, but by the abundance of pollinating insects that visit them daily, it’s clear that they are insect rather than wind pollinated. (Ragweeds and other hay-fever causing species are wind pollinated.)

And so today, as I have for the past few weeks, I spent time focusing on those pollinating visitors and others who find goldenrods attractive for different reasons. Take a look.

g-assassin-1

What first caught my eye was a bee that dangled upside down. And then I spied the green legs of an assassin bug. What? Yup, an assassin bug.  I believe this one is a nymph. Regardless of age, here’s the scoop: Assassin bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden, they also sometimes choose the wrong species like this bee. The unsuspecting prey is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. Once I saw this, I continued to return for a couple of hours, so stay tuned.

g-honey-2

Fortunately, there were other honeybees on the job of pollinating the flowers.

g-bumblebee

Mighty bumblebees also filled their sacs to the brim.

g-assassin-2

A.B. Take 2–do you see the proboscis stuck into the first bee’s thorax? It fed by sucking out the fluids.

g-hover-fly

Back to the other visitors. One of my favorites was the hover fly. I’m always humbled by its coloration.

g-wasp

And then there were the wasps.

g-wasp-2

Their almost hairless bodies provided contrast beside the bees.

g-assassin-3

A.B. Take 3–The A.B. turned the bee and it appeared that its proboscis became coated with pollen, which would make sense.

g-jumping-spider

Meanwhile, a jumping spider waited patiently for its own prey to come into sight. I felt like all eyes were on me as we came face to face. Thankfully, it didn’t jump and grab me with its jaws.

g-crab-3

Another with a poisonous bite is the crab spider. This one was more active that most that I’ve seen. Usually, they sit and wait, then catch their prey, bite it and again, suck it dry. And while it looks huge in this picture, it is really quite small–about pencil eraser size.

g-spider-web

A third spider species used the goldenrod’s stem and leaves to weave its own structure. It seemed to be more successful than the others at finding a meal.

g-assassin-5

A.B. Take 4–Check out A.B.’s tiny red eyes. And its camouflage–no wonder the poor bee never saw it.

g-caterpillar-2

Not every visitor to the goldenrod knew about camouflage. I don’t know who this is, but saw it on a nearby orange echinacea yesterday. Its mauve color certainly shouted for attention among the yellow sea.

g-caterpillar-blend

A different caterpillar did a better job of blending in–do you see it?

g-assassin-7

A.B. Take 5–An hour later and the A.B. was still sucking.

g-assault-2

At the same time, another predator hid among the flowers–an ambush bug.

g-ambush-3

This species is otherworldly at best.

g-ambush-bug

And talented. The ambush bug waits patiently and then snatches prey with its knife-like pincers. All but the outer shell of the prey is consumed. I swear this guy was smiling. Maybe he’d enjoyed a feast and I’d missed it.

g-assassin-victim

A.B. Take 6–About two hours after I’d first observed it, I returned and couldn’t find the bee. Then I noticed a motionless body on a flower branch below. Apparently A.B. had sucked all the life out of it and then let it go.

g-assassin-on-prowl-2

A.B. The Final Take–It had finished taking and went in search of another victim.

What I know for sure: While goldenrod may rule the late garden, it is also ruled by many in a bug-eat-bug world. All of it is worth a wonder.

Some Call Them Weeds

Shades of brown, gray and green dominate the winterscape now that we finally have some snow. It’s those browns that frequently draw my focus as I admire the woody skeletons of bygone summer wildflowers. Of course, some call them weeds.. I’ll admit that they do grow prolifically–especially in land cleared by humans, e.g. the field and power line I frequent.

But . . . come meet a few of my winter friends.

Indian Tobacco

This is Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata). Guides say it tends to be alone, but I’ve seen it grow in colonies as well. The papery calyx is all that is left now.

IT 2

Inflata refers to the inflated seedpods, which are two-chamber capsules that split open to drop their seeds.

iT 4

Minute and scaly, the seeds self sow.

bugleweed

I struggle with the ID of this member of the mint family. Knowing it is a mint is the easy part. Notice the square stem? I believe it’s bugleweed or water horehound, but I’ve also toyed with motherwort. Either way, both feature toothy calyces that whorl around the stems. I keep flip-flopping because the dried seedpods seem larger than bugleweed, but all were on single stems and the area is known to be wet–though not consistently. Maybe knowing it’s a mint is enough.

spirea 3 meadowsweet

Both hardhack (steeplebush) and meadowsweet are members of the Rosaceae family. Their dried fruit structure is known as a follicle, meaning it splits open along one line–like a milkweed. But these two plants have five follicles encircling a central point.

goldenrod 1 goldenrod 2

Showy goldenrods grow abundantly and it’s no wonder given all their seeds. They depend on the wind and my snow pants to disperse. I refer to plants that stick to my clothes as volunteers. And if they are sticking to me, then they are also sticking the fur of mammals that move about this area. Today I found deer, bobcat and squirrel tracks.

achene

Both goldenrods and aster seeds have small, single-seeded fruits called achenes. A receptacle holds the fruits in place until they’re ready to head off on their own.

goldenrod 4

Check out the crown of hair, called a pappus, on this aster. These act like parachutes and enable the fruits to float along in a breeze, thus spreading the flowers far and wide.

a or g 5

While the goldenrod flowers tend to grow in dense clusters, aster flowers are found in a single arrangement.

A turn to folklore explains how the goldenrods and asters are related. Two young girls talked talked about their future. One, who had golden hair, said she wanted to do something that would make people happy. The other, with blue eyes, said that she wanted to be with her golden-haired friend. When the two girls told a wise old lady of their dreams, she gave them some magic corn cake. After eating the cake, the girls disappeared. The next day, two new kinds of flowers appeared where the girls had walked: Asters and Goldenrods.

g gall 2 Goldenrod bunch gall

Another way to identify goldenrod in the winter is to look for these galls. The goldenrod ball gall, on the left, is a round gall in the middle of a stem. In the spring, the Goldenrod gall fly lays her eggs on the stem. Hatched larvae chew their way into the stem and the gall starts to develop. The other is a Goldenrod bunch gall created by a tiny fly called the Goldenrod gall midge. It looks like a mass of tiny leaves. While it stops the main stem from growing, tiny branches extend outward.

spider 2

Though not an insect, I did find a spider on the snow today.

 bouquet

And then I came in, bringing a few finds with me. My guy is lucky–bouquets come cheap around these parts.

sketch

Some call them weeds. I call them volunteers who add beauty in any season.