habitat update: fire effects, new bees, and an Unexpected Cycnia

Lots of odds and ends here… I apologize for the random nature of things, but I thought you’d enjoy hearing about this and that.

1) “Iron plant”

Sr. Mary and I were at the Moontree Lodge the other day and she pointed outside and said, “What’s that purple plant down there? I’ve never seen it there.” I took a look, it was Ironweed, (a Vernonia species, I forgot to check which one). “Did you plant that?” “Nope, it just showed up!”

Just before the tree line are several ironweed plants topped with deep purple flowers.

Ironweed is often found in pastures. We don’t hardly need to seed it, as it’s pretty common on the landscape and manages to show up often. However, this spot was just burned this spring. I have a hunch that the spring burn, which damaged the European cool-season grasses we are trying to eradicate, gave an edge to the ironweed and it took off.

The plants were a good six feet tall!

The more flowering species, the better. If we have dozens of species, there will always be something providing nectar and pollen throughout the long growing season. Sure enough, there were several Monarchs nectaring on the Ironweed. (It’s been a great year for Monarchs, if you hadn’t noticed).

Read more about this plant at this great ecology blog: A Tough Plant, Not A Weed

A Tough Plant, Not A Weed

2) The (honey) bees are back

Speaking of all those flowers, we thought we could turn some of that nectar and pollen in honey. We found a new friend who needed a flower-rich space to put his bees for the season. In return, we get pollination of our flowers (which leads to seeds we can harvest in the fall). Honey bees aren’t native to this continent, but these “white man’s flies” have been naturalized her for several centuries.

I’ve been playing around with my smartphone’s slow-motion video feature. It’s actually just a video shot at 120 frames per second, then you can do some editing afterwards. Anyway, I’m not a great photographer, but I thought I’d throw up my first take:

3) Unexpected Cycnias

You learned about these somewhat rare moth caterpillars from Cassaundra Bash’s recent guest post. So did I… I had never heard of them!

Imagine my surprise then when I found some of these the very next week, munching away on some butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is an orange-flowered native milkweed species. Since I’ve scanned hundreds of milkweed plants for Monarch and Tiger Moth caterpillars, it is probable that cycnias have passed before my eyes… but I had never truly seen them. This is a reoccurring part of ecological education. Once your eyes are opened to a particular plant, or your ears opened to specific birdsong, etc, you start finding it everywhere. Imagine what else we are missing right in front of us!

That was… well, Unexpected!

As I was researching some basic facts about these guys, I found a researcher’s 2015 blog post, where she was soliciting observations of the Unexpected Cycnia from across the continent. Of course, I e-mailed her and was now doubly pleased to contribute a very small piece to our body of knowledge about this incredible world.

4) More Butterflies

Ok, thanks for reading this far. As a special gift, check out this slow-motion sequence I observed in my backyard. After you click the link, pause the video. Hit the gear icon and change the settings so that you are watching in HD (720p), then click to open in full screen. The real big surprise comes in at about 23 seconds!

 

One Reply to “habitat update: fire effects, new bees, and an Unexpected Cycnia”

  1. Sr. Linda Volk

    What a beautiful display of unexpected and diverse gifts of nature in our back yard.
    The ending tops it all!!
    Sr. Linda

    Reply

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