Among the Flowers

Acadian Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

After getting lucky with the Banded Hairstreak on Friday I decided to try for another hairstreak butterfly in a different location nearby: the Acadian Hairstreak. In July 2014 I had found a small colony of these small, gray butterflies at the Bruce Pit and hoped to find them there again this year. It’s also a good spot for birds and dragonflies, so I decided to bring my net and spend some time there. As the “pit” itself has become overgrown with cattails, I decided not to walk down to the water, but to check the meadow above it instead. This turned out to be a wise decision as there were a number of tiny toads at the water’s edge and I didn’t want to accidentally step on any.

I didn’t see any hairstreaks in the vegetation at the bottom of the hill, which is where I had found them two years ago. However I did see a few Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Widow Skimmers and Four-spotted Skimmers perching in and hovering over the vegetation. A few small yellowish meadowhawks were also present.

Red Milkweed Beetles were out in force, with a pair mating at the tip of a milkweek leaf.

Red Milkweed Beetle

Red Milkweed Beetles

I continued walking through the vegetation toward the hill on the opposite side, scaring up a Mourning Cloak and a Clouded Sulphur. As I reached the longer grass I started seeing damselflies floating a couple of inches above the ground, most of which were Lyre-tipped Spreadwings and Sedge Sprites, and eventually found a pair in a mating wheel. This is not something I see often, perhaps because they are so small and difficult to see hanging from thin stems and blades of grass.

Sedge Sprites in Mating Wheel

Sedge Sprites in Mating Wheel

I came across a few milkweed blossoms in bloom and started examining them for bugs. Milkweed is a magnet for nectar-loving insects of all sorts, including various bees, syrphid flies (aka hover flies), butterflies and moths. I wasn’t expecting to find any lady beetles on the blossoms, since they are predators of small soft-bodied insects such as aphids, so I was surprised to find a blossom that had not one, but three lady beetles on it!

Three Lady Beetles

Three Lady Beetles

It was the bright red elytra of the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle that first caught my attention. This non-native species was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in 1973 after several intentional releases between 1951 and 1971 failed. Used as a biological control for pests such as aphids, this species has become one of the most common and widespread lady beetle species in the Nearctic range.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

While photographing the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle I noticed a second one hiding in a nearby milkweed blossom , and a third lady beetle – this one black with orange spots – off to the side. It was an Orange-spotted Lady Beetle, probably Brachiacantha ursina, which is the most commonly collected eastern North American species of Brachiacantha according to Bugguide. This looked like the same species I had seen in my own backyard two weeks ago on June 20th, although that one was crawling on my Purple Coneflower and this species is often associated with milkweed.

Compared to other ladybugs, the Orange-spotted Lady Beetle is quite tiny, and it was hard to get a decent photo without pressing my camera right up against it!

Lady Beetle (Brachiacantha sp.)

Lady Beetle (Brachiacantha sp.)

I walked deeper into the patch of flowers, which consisted mostly of Bird’s-foot trefoil, Cow Vetch, thistle, and Common Milkweed, looking for other insects. A good number of Lyre-tipped Spreadwings were flying, and it was nice to see these black and blue spreadwings perching against such colourful backgrounds.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Something brown flew past me and landed on a yellow Bird’s-foot trefoil flower, and I grew excited when I realized it was a hairstreak. I had to get closer to it to make sure it was an Acadian Hairstreak, the species I was looking for, and observed all the pertinent field marks: the two small tails on the hindwings, the row of orange submarginal spots capped with black, and the orange-capped blue marginal spot near the tail. I was happy to see that they were still here – I didn’t look for them at all in 2015, but apparently there must have been some to produce the ones I saw today.

Acadian Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

I think there were at least two in the area, and I followed them around for a while, hoping to get some great photos of them on different flowers. However, they didn’t seem to be nectaring on any blossoms; rather, they would perch on a blossom or a leaf and slowly walk around, moving close to the stem where I couldn’t get a clear photo.

If the hairstreaks wouldn’t oblige me by perching on other flowers, I certainly found more than enough insects that would! This Dot-tailed Whiteface was happy with its Cow Vetch perch…

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Dot-tailed Whiteface

…while this meadowhawk blended in well with its Bird’s-foot trefoil perch. Likely a White-faced Meadowhawk, it was just about the same length as the Lyre-tipped Spreadwings.

Meadowhawk sp.

Meadowhawk sp.

I found another Seven-spotted Lady Beetle, this one on a purple thistle flower. That was the fourth one I found in the area.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle

While I was taking photos of the ladybug, a honey bee flew in and provided a two-for-one photo opportunity! Even though the area was covered in a mass of flowers, there weren’t anywhere near the number of bees and wasps present that I would have expected.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle and Honey bee

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle and Honey bee

Other beetles were enjoying the bounty, too, including several Rose Chafer beetles which were mostly on the milkweed flowers. The adults feed on the flowers and some leaves, and mate right on the plants they feed on. The eggs are laid deep (13-15 cm) in the soil and hatch in one to three weeks. The larvae remain in the soil until the following summer, feeding on roots of grasses, weeds and ornamental flowers until they pupate in the early spring.

Rose Chafer Beetle (Macrodactylus sp,)

Rose Chafer Beetle (Macrodactylus sp,)

Another beetle caught my attention, although this one wasn’t on any flowers. It was grayish blue and had an oddly-shaped head that was wider than its neck. Thanks to the FWG photo gallery I was able to identify it as an Ashgray Blister Beetle. The adults feed on legumes, and as the area was full of both Red and White Clover, Cow Vetch, and – on the other side the large wet patch – Crown Vetch, it wasn’t surprising that I found two different adults.

Ashgray Blister Beetle (Epicauta fabricii)

Ashgray Blister Beetle (Epicauta fabricii)

I did wander past the small meadow to the open area along the northwest corner of the pond, but didn’t see much of interest, except for an Eastern Pondhawk which I can’t recall seeing at the Bruce Pit before. There were no Common Gallinules around, which was a bit of a surprise – I usually hear them even if I don’t see them. Although I only spent 90 minutes there, I had fun watching the various insects feeding and trundling around on all the different flowers. It was amazing to be surrounded by so much colour and so many tiny living creatures (including the baby toads!) that it reminded me again of why I hate winter so much and why I rarely suffer from the doldrums during the summer.

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