Sunday, August 24, 2014
The summer of 2013 was one of the saddest ones I've ever lived through, if you're talking about butterflies. All that summer, I saw exactly four monarchs, and no caterpillars.
I am elated to report that 2014 is a different story. I've seen 25 monarchs this season so far. They're still scarce enough for me to count and treasure and try to photograph every one. I couldn't bear the thought that this magnificent butterfly might vanish from our meadows. I remember seeing endless streams of them along the Connecticut shoreline in September, all heading for Mexico. I hope to see that again someday.
This gorgeous male (identified by the thickened vein, second from bottom on his hindwing) was nectaring on narrow-leaved mountain mint in Harrisville, WV, not far from my beloved North Bend State Park.
That thickened vein translates to a little black dot, which is a scent gland, on the upper surface of his hindwing.
For whatever reason I've seen many more males than females this year. Male again (see the thickening?)
The monarch was a serendipitous add-on. I left North Bend first, and David and Mary Jane followed. I was driving along Rte. 16 when my eye was arrested by a stand of rose gentian so thick and fine I squealed! I pulled off and waited for David and Mary Jane to catch up. Flagged them down and introduced them to my favorite wildflower. It was new to them. New no more. Now they'll look for it wherever they go. A little gift I could give them, for turning me on to North Bend. I'll never be able to repay that giant present.
We wandered in the meadow, bending down to bury our noses in its delicate perfume.
A particularly nice combo with Queen Anne's lace. This is the best QUAL year I can remember. Best rose gentian year, too.
And enjoying the gentian and monarchs, I noticed this spectacular wasp, more than an inch long. It took me a little while with The Google, calling up images with tagwords like "orange black spider wasp" and finally "spider wasp Queen Anne's lace" to finally find an image that matched it. That led me to digger wasps, and I finally figured out what I had. It's a different kind of 21st century field guide I've got in my laptop. Leafing through it is kind of like playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but eventually I get there. Having a little knowledge aforehand helps immensely.
Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus, nectaring on Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint. A nectar feeder as an adult, the GGDW feeds its young on more proteinaceous stuff. This wasp makes vertical tunnels in sandy soil, into which she drags crickets and katydids that she has stung and paralyzed. There are several chambers at the bottom of her tunnel, a paralyzed insect deposited in each one. She lays an egg on each immobilized insect, and in the grand manner of parasitic fly and wasp larvae, the grubs eat around the hapless victim's vital organs until the very last minute, when the wasp grub is ready to pupate, thus keeping its food source fresh for the duration. Eating its host alive, as it were. Eeesh! Insects are the coolest, the most macabre, the most terrible and wonderful things on the planet. I find this sleek, peaceful fighter jet of a wasp captivating. Now I look for it on wildflowers, where it sips nectar, belying its katydid-paralyzing nature.
You beautiful thing, you make my heart sing.
Beauty: my #1 motivator. Sharing it: #2.