Every summer when the common milkweed is in full bloom, I find insects trapped in its blossoms. They can’t get their legs out because they’re caught in a slit in the flower or on a bundle of pollen called pollinia.
I sometimes see honeybees struggling, like this one from two years ago…
…and then if they fight enough, they’re often able to get away. I’ve even seen honeybees get stuck, struggle, free themselves, and then immediately get stuck again on another flower.
But sometimes, they aren’t able to get free. I assume this one struggled so much that it got turned around and found itself in a cage. When I find them, I help them escape. It may be interfering with nature, but I can’t sit by and watch them suffer.
For the insects that can’t escape, if I don’t find in time, that’s how their story ends. I’ve found many dead insects with their legs stuck in the flowers.
Honeybees, flies, and moths are the only insects I’ve found trapped; bumblebees and other bees, as well as butterflies, apparently are strong enough that this isn’t an issue.
I found these two moths about two feet apart one morning.
The one on the left even lost a leg in the ordeal; you can see it in the first picture too.
Learn more about this phenomenon
I think the title pretty much says it all.
Eastern tiger swallowtail:
Red admiral with wings closed:
Same butterfly with wings open:
Comma butterfly — wings closed, with the white C / backwards comma visible:
Same butterfly with wings open:
Mourning cloak (taken from the “wrong” side of the sunlight, so it’s in shadow):
And though this one isn’t a butterfly yet, it will be one day, and it’s my favorite photo of the year so far, so I’m including it in this set. Monarch caterpillar in common milkweed:
The butterfly weed nearest the street — one big plant that’s been growing for a few years — is two shades of orange:
half dark orange, half light orange.
This particular plant (one of at least five butterfly weeds in our front yard) is constantly humming with busy honeybees.
I thought about watching for five minutes for an unscientific study of which side the bees prefer. Over several days, I would keep coming back to this flower, and the result wasn’t consistent.
Other bees sometimes make an appearance, too. I don’t know what kind of bee this is.
And being butterfly weed, butterflies sometimes stop by, too. I think this is a type of hairstreak.
This is the same butterfly weed plant that had six monarch eggs earlier this year.
After a big morning storm on June 11, which included plenty of hail, we spent a lot of time in the garden checking on the flowers and the caterpillars. Not many flowers were blooming yet, which may have worked in our favor: some common milkweed and cup plants had a few ripped leaves from the hail, but most looked just fine.
The monarch and American lady caterpillars were wet and recovering where they usually reside, and then we found something somewhat unexpected: five black swallowtail caterpillars.
It wasn’t completely unexpected because they were all on Golden Alexanders, which is a host plant, and I had been looking for them for a couple weeks. (I saw a butterfly on May 12, and a caterpillar last year, so I knew it was a possibility.) But I was quite surprised to find five!
The fifth looked strange; maybe it had been hurt during the storm?
I kept checking for them after that day, and two were visible for more than a week. Here are photos from one evening:
Same caterpillar from the side, looking guilty (though of course that is just my funny interpretation):
This was the last night I saw any of these caterpillars. I don’t know enough about the life cycle of black swallowtail butterflies, yet, to know whether these caterpillars moved away to pupate, or whether they were more likely eaten by birds, wasps, or something else.
A little over a week ago, I saw a monarch lay an egg on the butterfly weed, so I kept checking on it.
Two days later I noticed two more eggs. The next day I noticed a fourth, and I was able to get them all in one photo.
Of course, from this distance they’re nearly impossible to see, so I added arrows to show where they are. The orange arrow is the location of the original egg.
A zoomed-in version of the top two eggs:
And a zoomed-in version of the bottom two eggs:
When I leaned in to get a closer look at one of them, I spotted a fifth egg in the crown of one of the stems.
Then I decided to check the other side of the plant, and I found a sixth egg.
Six eggs on one plant. Wow!
I decided to raise two of the eggs (plus one from a common milkweed) inside — partly to simply observe, and partly for a reason I’ll explain in a future post. All three hatched early the same morning, but strangely, they’re growing at different rates.