Hello everyone, and thanks for being friends of our garden. Summer is here! Oh, how excited we are about the sweltering heat. In spite of it though, there was tons of activity in the garden. From life rising anew to death reigning supreme, nobody was safe. Before I get to that, however, I want to address a plant that I identified last month. Although I may be a master naturalist, I am not a plant expert. So, I want to revisit White Clover Trifolium repens. I mistakenly thought that the plant was dying out due to the heat. Apparently, I just mistook a grass-cutting for death. That being said let’s look at the seasonality of the White Clover in
figure 1. It begins its major growth period in the spring. As summer comes along, we can see a steady decrease followed by a plateau in late summer trailed by a steady decline in the fall. This means that they can act as attractants for the pollinator garden almost year-round. What I mean by that is they can bring in pollinators by acting as food stations for the surrounding area. This helps to increase genetic diversity as they move from plant to plant. But enough about the clover. Let’s turn our focus to what is happening in the garden.
As things heat up, we begin to see a change in the species which inhabit the garden. This change may not be a separate species, but maybe a temporal shift in life stages. Let’s begin by taking a look at the Conchuela Bug. In this first photo (Figure 2), captured in April, we see an adult. The second displays a juvenile from June (Figure 3). Although I never saw eggs, I can tell from this difference between instars that they are clearly breeding in the area. This means that the young are acting as prey items for a variety of other species in and around the garden. Predators include but aren’t limited to bats, birds, assassin bugs, and spiders.
Speaking of prey items, Figures 4 and 5 display an interesting tactic that some wasps utilize. These two caterpillars are given the generic name hornworms. This is due to their hornlike extension seen in Figure 4. Many gardeners out there, especially those who grow tomatoes, are not fond of their presence. They can decimate a tomato plant in a very short period of time. Even overnight! So, instead of using a pesticide to remove them, you could rely on natural pest control--braconid wasps. These interesting insects begin by laying their eggs inside of these hornworms. During this event, the wasp also infects the prey with a virus. Once delivered, the virus begins to inhibit the immune system in the hornworm. This means that the eggs now have a safe environment in which to grow. Once the larvae are ready to metamorphose into wasps, they bore their way out of the caterpillar by eating some of the exoskeleton. Then they construct a cocoon on the exterior of the body. That is what all of the white columns are in the photos above. Although this series of events can be considered a horrible end for the caterpillar, let’s instead focus on how amazing this specific interaction is. Not only are these wasps specially designed for a lifecycle that exists partly within a caterpillar, but they have co-evolved with a virus to help transform their host into a more suitable habitat! What an amazing demonstration of the circle of life.
Before we get off the topic of life and death in the garden, let’s take a look at another example. Figure 6 shows a pair of Blue-fronted Dancers in what scientists refer to as “in tandem.” This is actually their breeding position. Regarding the males, they actually grab the female on the back of their thorax utilizing two body parts called cerci and paraprocts. Now, before any sperm would be transferred it is common for the male to remove any previous sperm from the prior matings. Once this is achieved, he will transfer his sperm to his secondary genitalia located underneath the 2nd and 3rd part of the abdomen. After this, the female will bring her abdomen up to his secondary genitalia and collect the spermatophore. This position is referred to as “in wheel.” This copulation can last for a few minutes up to half an hour. Once the mating ritual is complete the female will begin laying eggs in a suitable aquatic habitat. During the egg-laying, the couple usually stays in tandem until it is complete.
Figure 7: This series of photos was found in a field guide from The Field Museum in Chicago. Unfortunately, we will not be able to see any of the nymphs in the garden because they are aquatic until they are adults, but it is quite a cool experience to watch them do their dance and predate on other critters in the garden.
To finish off this entry I want to look at some of the new species that I have noticed since beginning this blog in April. To the left, we have a young Aztec Spur-throated Grasshopper. As they age, they will begin to become less colorful, but they have some very striking colors at this stage of their life.
Up next, we have a truly gorgeous butterfly known as an American Lady. Notice how it has two large eyespots on its wing. This helps to readily distinguish it from a sister species called the Painted Lady which has four eyespots.
This dragonfly is called the Black-shouldered Spinyleg. Although not very visible in this photo their legs do have relatively large spines. This helps them capture their prey as they fly about.
This small insect is known as the Prairie Coneflower Mirid. Although not much is documented about them, their bold pattern is quite striking.
The final photo that I will show is of a Palmleaf Mistflower. As I mentioned earlier, I am not an expert or anywhere close to it regarding plants. I am, however, a huge fan of things that fly. I’m guessing some of you have figured that out by now. With that in mind closely look at the photo and make notes of what you see. I can promise you that there is a creature in this photo. The evidence is quite clear. It’s one of those things that when you see it you can’t unsee it. Come back next month where I will talk about what creature is hanging out on this flower and some other species which they are related too. Until then make sure to hydrate, manage your time in the sun, but most important of all enjoy getting out there and seeing what nature has in store for you this summer!