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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's Not All Butterflies and Rainbows

A few weeks back, my post featured butterflies, those soaring flowers of the sky. Gorgeous creatures, all. But I have many other visitors to my yard and garden, who might not have the glitz and glory of those pretty insects.

Below are some other garden guests, including some butterflies who were late arrivals this summer, and didn't make it into my first post. By this time of year--late summer--you can see the wear and tear on  butterfly wings. No longer pristine and smooth, wings show rough spots and jagged edges. Yet it doesn't seem to slow them down.  This year, I've had quite a few first-time butterflies.

As a total beginner in identifying these gorgeous creatures, I often found myself on, particularly their identification page. That truly is the only way I figured out who my visitors were.

I saw this Giant swallowtail only once. A little battered, this big beauty was still quite spectacular, boasting a 5-inch wingspan.
There are several butterflies in the northeast that feature orange and black patterns, so they are easy to confuse. This Pearl Crescent is so named because of a half-moon shape on its ventral side. Of course, this individual only allowed me a close look at the dorsal side (shown here), but I still believe I identified him correctly.
I think this is one of my favorites among the newcomers. Although it's called a Red-spotted purple, this butterfly's wings are a spectacular iridescent blue on the dorsal side. I love this picture because you can clearly see the proboscis, basically a rolled-up straw butterflies use to suck up nectar.
This is another view of the Red-spotted purple. I think this guy was posing.
On the ventral side of the Red-spotted purple's wings, you can see the red spots that inspire the name. After I looked up this butterfly online, I learned that it likes ripe fruits. And once I put out peaches, strawberries and bananas, I saw this species in my garden almost daily, slurping my butterfly fruit salad. Unfortunately, the buffet was open to all, and the Red-spotted was also joined by yellow jackets, fruit flies and other nuisance insects and I had to close it down.

So even though myriad butterfly species visited my garden, they weren't the only creatures with many representatives showing up amidst my flowers. Other pollinators--specifically bees--flew into town.

I was particularly thrilled to see honeybees in my garden. They had nearly disappeared, probably due to the mysterious illness known as colony collapse disorder, which destroyed thousands of hives.  Here's our sweet pollinator on Verbena bonariensis, a perennial that was a gift from the garden of my oldest friend, Cathy, whom I've known since third grade.
I admit, I'm not great at bee identification, so I'm not sure of the species here. This creature visited in the early morning, casting his shadow in one of my fall-blooming asters.
Bumble bees love my anemone. I often see several trying to climb into one flower, where it seems pretty obvious to me that there's really only room for one. This picture amuses me, as the one bee looks like he is knocking at the door; I can imagine the other one calling out, "Occupied!"

In addition to the flying insects, there are also creepy crawlies, like this caterpillar.

I believe this is a yellow bear caterpillar, identifiable by the extra long hairs on his body. About the shape and size of the black and brown wooly bear that many of us often see in the fall, this charming fuzzball turns into a Virginian tiger moth, a beautiful  nighttime flier that looks like it's wearing a cape of bright white fur. I believe I've encountered one of these fine specimens on a warm summer evening.
This looks like a type of ladybird beetle, often called a ladybug. I don't mind seeing these little guys in my garden, because they hunt mites and other nasty plant destroyers.
I have no clue what this incredible insect is--some kind of beatle, er beetle, I think. Based on its '70s-era flower-power coat of vibrant colors, I think perhaps "beatle" may be more appropriate.

Not everyone who visits my garden wants his or her presence known. If you look carefully, you can see past the camouflage and discover other inhabitants.

This moth was tucked under a leaf, a very pale green, just about invisible.
Can you spot the grasshopper-type insect here? Talk about invisible!

We even get to see our share of dragonflies and damselflies. I really like these guys because they feast on the gnats that sometimes plague my backyard--and prey on me--often making it very difficult to go outside without some kind of citronella coating.

Trying to capture them with the camera is a bit of challenge, usually resulting in blurry pictures or photos of sticks that used to have an insect on them. I was lucky a few times, though, and got these two beauties to stay still long enough and to let me snap off a few shots.

I'm sure some entomologist somewhere can identify this bright red aeronaut with gossamer wings. Check out the tiny red spots on those wings--like finding just the right earrings to go with your outfit!
I was able to identify this blue and black dragonfly--a Twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella)--by using the cool new Google search feature where you can upload an image and it will find similar pictures.

And then there are the creatures who don't seem to know what they are, but are fascinating in their uniqueness, like the Hummingbird clearwing moth, shown below.  Hummingbird? Well, they are only a little smaller than those lovely birds (who also visit my yard--I'll feature them in a future post). And they hover just like the hummers do. Clearwing? Well, yes, if you see the wings; just like the hummingbirds, they beat so fast, you can't see them unless you have a camera with a fast shutter speed to stop the motion. Moth? According to the books, that's what they are, though they are daytime fliers, hanging out with the butterflies and bees in the bright sun.

Hummingbird clearwing moth showing off its clearly beautiful wings.

So while it's not always butterflies and rainbows (and unicorns) in my yard, I welcome all and sundry. It's one of the reasons I love my gardens so much; not only do I get to enjoy the flowers, but I am providing food and shelter for all kinds of living things. And, in return, they provide me with a daily dance of beauty and fascination.

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