Milkweed and Butterflies

We live along a gravel road, and on both sides there is plenty of common milkweed.

Common milkweed, like most milkweed species, can be quite fragrant at times and is attractive to many different pollinators.  I especially like it when I am chasing butterflies.

We know that milkweed is a caterpillar host plant for monarchs.  However, I like the way the plant attracts other butterflies.  With the flowers in sort of a loose ball, the butterflies are often found in unusual positions.

Red admirals are common but always colorful.

Small butterflies like this dun skipper can often be found on the blooms if you look closely.

Banded hairstreaks are small, only have one generation per year, and are only present as adults for about two weeks each year.  Therefore it is a special treat to find one.

This banded hairstreak was back lit, and sunlight was hitting the fringes on the edge of its wings.  I had never seen that before.

And, I found an Edward’s hairstreak.  I have seen and photographed them before this, but never this close to home.

If you have some common milkweed, take the time to examine it closely.  You might find some nice surprises.

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On Ripley Esker

One of my job duties requires me to go to Camp Ripley in Minnesota about every year.  We do an internal audit of our Environmental Management System, and since you cannot audit yourself (or the work you have done), we have an informal exchange.  I conduct the Minnesota internal audit, and someone from Minnesota conducts the Iowa audit.

I don’t travel well.  Even though the people I deal with are very professional, friendly, and helpful I still find myself dreading the trip.  I think it is because I spend too much time “stewing in my own juices” as my Dad used to say.  I like a certain amount of solitude, but when I am driving or sitting in a hotel room by myself I tend to over-worry about my problems.

Fortunately, about two miles east of Camp Ripley is a nice natural area that allowed me to get some major stress relief.  The area is called Ripley Esker State Natural Area.  I visited it all three evenings that I was up there.

Basically, an esker is a glacial feature–sand and gravel from internal streams of a melting glacier leave a ridge that may be several miles long.  The part that is preserved in Ripley is about three quarters of a mile long, and I would estimate it may be 30 or 40 feet high in places.  The esker itself is wooded (more like a savanna than a forest, though) but the surrounding area is prairie.

Butterflies were everywhere in the small oaks on the ridge.  That is a hobomok skipper to the right and a little wood satyr to the left.

This little wood satyr seems to be getting some kind of nourishment from a liquid on top of an oak leaf.

There were lots of dragonflies and damselflies.  I haven’t figured out what this one is yet.

I felt something crawling on my arm, and it turned out to be a tiny bright green beetle.  This weevil may be Polydrusus impressifrons.

This crab spider is waiting for its prey.

The arctic skipper was new to me.  This was the first one I have seen or photographed.

And on my way down I encountered this pair of hobomok skippers doing a little nuptial dance on the poison ivy.

If you are thinking of visiting the site, be aware that there are deer flies, mosquitoes, wood ticks, and some kind of little gnat that likes to fly near your eyes or into your nostrils.

But for me, the short time I was able to spend at Ripley Esker was very enjoyable.  I would highly recommend it.  It was great stress relief.

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Recent Butterflies

The last couple of days has been very hot with strong winds.  The winds make the butterflies less likely to fly around like they normally do.  When they do take to the wing they are obviously bothered by it.  They are also more difficult to photograph with the strong wind.

Still, they can be found and I have been able to take a few photos.  This is a cabbage white.

This is a meadow fritillary.

I saw a few fresh painted ladies today.

These least skippers landed on the leg of my shorts, making for an interesting photographic experience.

Nothing very rare, but all fun!

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Get ’em off, Get ’em off!

Dragonflies and damselflies can often be seen carrying a load of the parasitic larvae of water mites.  This damselfly (probably a familiar bluet) had an unusually large load.

It is thought that they do not kill the damsels, but that they do drain their resources.


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Yesterday and Today

I went to Medora Prairie yesterday, which is a TNC preserve located east of New Virginia, Iowa.  This area is home to some of Iowa’s rarest butterflies.  While I did not see any of the rare ones, I did get to see some nice ones.  We have had a little bit of a spell where there weren’t many butterflies flying, but the numbers are rapidly picking up.

This silvery checkerspot was hanging out near a puddle in the dirt road just alongside the prairie.

This tawny-edged skipper was getting nectar from the dogbane alongside the same road.  Dogbane is starting to bloom at Medora, but it is not yet blooming where I live, which is about an hour’s drive to the north of there.

Back home today I came across this Peck’s skipper.

Two days ago I started seeing small whitish butterflies flying high up in the trees.  I was pretty sure they were summer azures, but I only saw them a few times and I never got a good look.  Now they are out in full force, and can’t be missed.  I am sure they number in the dozens, if not the hundreds, just in our yard.

In the road alongside our property I came across these western fox snakes, in a fairly aggressive courtship display.

I considered moving them out of the road because of the possibility that someone could accidentally (or intentionally) run over them with a vehicle.  I did not–the road is fairly lightly traveled.  When I went past the site about an hour later they were gone.  They avoided the road hazard for the time being.

Another pleasant summer day.

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Might be Mites

This red admiral seems to be infested with something.  My best guess is mites.

I think there is one on the right leg in front, and two on the back left leg.

They could be parasitic or predatory, but they might just be attached as a way of dispersing.

Mites are known to attach to other insects.  The bumps on the bottom of this fragile forktail are mites.  In this case, the mites use the damselfly to disperse from one body of water to another.

Other creatures use insects to disperse as well.  This pseudoscorpion is just hitching a ride.

At a bioblitz I attended some time ago, people blacklighting for insects reported a snail attached to an insect.  I would be interested to know if that was a coincidence or if snails do disperse that way.

This extremely uncomfortable bordered patch is probably the victim of attempted predation, rather than hitchhiking.  I don’t think the spider was large enough to kill this butterfly, but I am not sure.  The butterfly is obviously very uncomfortable.

Photos were mostly from my back yard, except for the bordered patch which was photographed in Texas.

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Rest in Peace, Herbert Axelrod

Herbert R. Axelrod died earlier this month.  If you read the Wikipedia article, you might get the idea that he was a businessman who eventually got in trouble with the law.  He had a criminal conviction and was accused of being a swindler.  He seemed to have let a lot of people, including his friends, down.  There are accusations of academic fraud.  That stuff may be all true.

I never met the man, nor did I have any direct contact with him.

Yet he had a profound impact on my life.  A very positive impact.

His books about keeping tropical fishes ignited a strong passion in me.  He obviously had that passion himself.  He started a magazine called Tropical Fish Hobbyist and had a publishing company for books about fish and other subjects, including other pet books.

Here are a couple of books from my collection–large, coffee table type books.  He was the author of one, but the publisher of both.  He authored number of fish books, and his publishing company allowed for the publication of a whole lot of other books that would not otherwise have been published.

He encouraged people who kept fish to feed them live foods.  So I learned about mosquito larva, daphnia, chironomid larvae, leeches, snails, and other things present in the buckets of water I would collect for the fish.

Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine was not about keeping pets.  It was about fish, where they were found and the adventures surrounding looking for them.  It was about biological diversity.  It was about how the fish lived and reproduced.  It was about the passion of fish-keeping and understanding nature.

These pages from The Fascination of Breeding Aquarium Fish were about the beauty of the fish, as well as the biology.

I subscribed to Tropical Fish Hobbyist for many decades.  I quit sometime after he sold it, when the passion no longer seemed to be present.

When I went to college, I majored in biology, largely because of the passion for the subject inspired by Herbert Axelrod.  When I took up photography, I started with fish.  Most of the pictures I took were with film so I can’t show them here, but here is one I scanned that I am kind of proud of:

So thank you, Herbert Axelrod, for igniting my passion for the study of life.  Rest in Peace.

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Wandering Around

We finally had some warm and dry weather so I wondered around the property.  This winter and early spring I spent some time photographing a moss on an old elm stump at the edge of our yard.  I went over and checked it out.

The moss is still there, but it is under a canopy of other plants now.  Poison ivy is right there in front.

I have not yet identified the moss (but I am going to get around to it).  It has made some significant changes and maybe I will post photos I have taken over the seasons sometime.

And, I found a bug that was new to me.  This is a fragile forktail, Ischnura posita.  So far I have identified 19 species of dragonflies and damselflies on our property.  I am sure there are more that I haven’t photographed or identified yet.

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Politics at the Pond

The swamp has not been drained.  The politicians just sit there in the muck.  The warty ones seem to have a slight majority.  Their voices are deep and they drone on and on.  But the slimy ones chip in, too with their off-key chirps.  They do not pay attention to the message, but only to the volume as they try to out shout out the wart bearers.  They filibuster into the night.

The calling of frogs at our pond reminds me of politics a little.  Lots of noise, little back and forth.  At times it seems there is no communication, but only a contest to see who can be the loudest.  American toads and gray tree frogs are the loudest right now.

American toads have a deep, sustained call, and are one of the dominate species now.

Gray tree frogs are the chirpers.  They can get quite loud also.

We may have two different species of gray tree frogs here, distinguished mostly by their calls, but I confess I can’t tell the difference.

Leopard frogs are in a small minority now–sort of a third party.

I haven’t heard the cricket frogs yet–their time is coming soon.

The pond might only have one bullfrog, but his voice will be heard.

We have at least six species of frogs on our property–possibly as many as eight.  In addition to those shown we have chorus frogs (they are among the first to call and they are mostly done now).  I think I have heard spring peepers on a couple of occasions as well, but I may be mistaken.

They are a little different from politicians in one sense–their music is sweet.

I  love hearing the frogs at night.

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Another Change of Plans

Plans we had for today were changed, which was not such a bad thing.  I went to a couple of local parks, then to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, where I saw several bison, some of them up close.

It was a nice day to get outside.

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