Cardinal Flowers and Hummingbirds

I’m enjoying the bright red Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelias (Lobelia siphilitica) that are blooming around the Bald Cypress tree (Taxodium distichum) in our rain garden.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica). According to Tom Barnes, author of Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky, Cardinal Flowers “may be the best hummingbird-attracting plant in the state.”  I’ve enjoyed seeing Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) feeding on our plants. I’ve discovered that photographing them is indeed a challenge, but managed to get this image.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird  ( Arcchilochus colubris) & Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)Hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds and it’s great fun to have them in the backyard. I try attracting them with feeders but we see them much more often on the native plants. Cardinal Flowers are one of my favorite native plants and the fact that they draw hummingbirds makes them extra special.

Two new insects

I’m finding that my interest in butterflies and moths has broadened and I want to know more about all our insects.

I recently found this interesting critter on our Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) . I had no idea what it was and couldn’t identify it with our guide books. I finally requested an identification from the BugGuide website and within an hour I had an email identifying it as a Squash Vine Borer moth (Melittia cucurbitae).

Squash Vine Borer Moth (Melittia cucurbitae)

Here’s another strange insect I found recently. Again, I had no luck identifying it with our guide books. However, after spending some time on the BugGuide website I found images and information that helped me identify it as a Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus oppositus).

Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus oppositus)I’m quite impressed with the BugGuide website. It’s an online community of professional and amateur naturalists working together to learn more about insects, and making that information available to others. I think it will be a valuable resource and look forward to using it in my efforts to learn more about all the insects in our backyard.

Pearl Crescent chrysalis & butterfly

It’s easy to get excited about big butterflies such as Monarchs and Swallowtails. It takes more effort to see and appreciate the  smaller ones, but I find them just as exciting.

My friend, Connie May, has a keen eye for small things, especially caterpillars, which she often gives to me to photograph and raise. She recently discovered a half-inch Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) chrysalis while pulling weeds and gave it to me.

The next morning I saw orange and black wing markings showing through the previously opaque chrysalis, and suspected the butterfly would soon emerge.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) chrysalis

With camera ready, I was watching when “poof” the magic happened and the butterfly appeared.

Pearl Crescent butterfly newly emerged from chrysalis

The wings gradually lengthened and after a minute the butterfly became still while the fully formed wings hardened.

Pearl Crescent butterfly and chrysalis

In a couple of hours, it was ready to fly.

Adult Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) butterfly Crescents get their name from the markings near the bottom of the hind wings. At three-fourths inch wide, Pearl Crescents are one of our smaller butterflies. They are also one of the most common in North America.

A great way to encourage Crescents is to plant native asters. They are the only plants on which Pearl Crescents lay their eggs. As an added benefit, the beautiful aster blossoms are an excellent source of nectar for many fall butterflies.

I feel fortunate that Connie discovered the tiny chrysalis and gave it to me, and that I was able to see it emerge and set it free in the backyard. As to butterflies, large or small, I like them all.

Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar

There are caterpillars on my milkweed but they aren’t Monarchs. Instead, I have Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars (Euchaetes egle).

Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars on common milkweed leaf

Some folks refer to them as ‘the yarn caterpillar.’ They do resemble tufts of yarn and are very soft to the touch.

Euchaetes egle caterpillarMilkweed Tussock moth eggs are usually laid generously on older Milkweeds while Monarchs generally lay only one or two eggs per plant and prefer younger, more tender leaves.

I’d be much more excited about Monarch caterpillars. However, I have plenty of mature Common Milkweed leaves and am glad to have a diversity of insects adding interest to the backyard.