Archive for September, 2015

Asters And No Butterflies

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You can tell butterfly numbers are low when there are no butterflies on the summer farewell asters.

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 Their numbers have been low all summer, and I’m not sure why.

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The asters grow to six or more feet tall.

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One summer they were in full bloom when the monarch butterflies were migrating south. It was so dramatic, I just couldn’t stay in the house. There would be up to 50 or more monarch fluttering around the asters at any one time!

Red Spotted Purple Caterpillars

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This morning started with watching a female red-spotted purple butterfly laying eggs in a young wild cherry tree.

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The female taps the leaves with her feet to be sure she’s in the right tree. Butterflies smell with their feet.

The egg on the left is definitely the egg of a red-spotted purple butterfly. Something’s not right with the egg on the tip of the leaf.

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This young wild cherry tree almost gets lost among all the other nearby growth nearby. All these pictures were taken in it.

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The caterpillar measured 5mm. The three I found were all approximately the same size. They usually dangle a small cluster of leaf pieces to attract attention away from the caterpillar. The predator must be an immature, just like the caterpillar.

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 The position of the caterpillar looks like it’s either paralyzed or dead.

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This last caterpillar looks a tad odd: maybe it just molted. What looks like antennae, is a split from the drying vein of the leaf.  The way the leaf is cut away, the bare center vein and the dangling leaf pieces are definitely done by the caterpillar of red-spotted purple butterfly.

A Downy Feather

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Imagine a teeny spider weaving a web in a sedum, and suddenly part of its web turns white!

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The downy feather measures about an inch in diameter.

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What’s a teeny spider to do?

In The Wingstem Patch

Today felt cooler than recent days. I just couldn’t stay inside.

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 Seems like I spend a lot of time watching insect activity in the wingstem patch. There’s a pine tree on the left of the patch, a sweetgum in the back and a hackberry on the right.

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Gold moth (Basilodes pepita) caterpillars are relatively common.

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This is a younger version of the one above.

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Wingstem flowers grow in clusters.

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A daddy longlegs waits for prey to come close.

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A leafminer leaves a trail to as they grow inside the leaf.

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An immature ladybug doesn’t exactly look like a ladybug.

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Neither does this next stage of an immature ladybug.

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This immature wheelbug has a considerable amount of growing to go

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before it’s full grown. This one caught a bee for its meal.

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The silvery checkerspot butterfly lay their eggs on wingstem.


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Crab spiders have the ability to change color to match that of the flower they’re on. In this case, it’s among wingstem flowers. This is a female crab spider. Males are much smaller.

Her prey looks like a tachina fly.


Here’s another example of predation:

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I blogged this chrysalis earlier this summer. It was attached to the side of our garbage container.

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It belonged to a tawny emperor butterfly.

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A couple of weeks later another chrysalis was attached to the side of the container. I knew it was parasitized when it started turning dark.

Then came even another predator.

Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly

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 I wondered if the silvery checkerspot butterflies would visit in my gardens this summer. It seemed like they normally flew earlier.

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The silvery checkerspot butterflies lay their eggs on wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia).

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It’s easy to see where it got its name.

A Flying ????????

I didn’t notice the resemblance when I first looked at this picture.


  What kind of creature flies, disguised as a cloud?


A pterodactyl?

Ironweed and Two Skippers

The checklist of skippers in Illinois includes 54 species — 17 of the spread-wing  and 37 of the fold-wing ones. Similarities make many of them difficult to identify.

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Ironweeed (Vernonia baldwini) grows to 4 feet tall and will bloom into September. It’s always been a favorite of mine, especially because it’s a butterfly magnet. I realized earlier that the 3 plants in my butterfly garden were slowly dying. Why?  I didn’t know. So, I planned to be on the lookout for seeded plants later.

And then … and then I found two plants blooming in an unexpected area of the backyard!

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And a skipper was nectaring on the flowerheads. I’m 98 percent sure it’s an eastern dun skipper (foldwing). The faint pattern is on the male and not the female.

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Then there were two. I assumed one was the male and the other a female.

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They don’t stay in any one place very long. They can even  dart away without being seen leaving.

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The dun skippers’ wingspread measures 1 1/3 inches wide.

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Our butterfly numbers have been so low this summer and are only now increasing.


I used to have a children’s garden here and had families and groups visit. The kids got excited when I’d net a skipper and put in it a jar. Then one of the kids would slowly stick his/her finger in the jar. The skipper would usually walk slowly up the finger and start “sipping” the sweat through its proboscis.

A Change of Seasons

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These black-eyed Susans were the hub of activity much longer than I expected.

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This small spider apparently thought it was well camouflaged back in early August.

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Today, September 6, shows a dramatic change in the flowers during the last two months.

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Another spider had staked its claim for any remaining possible “live” food.

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 This spider picked a unappetizing-looking flower-head. At least the sedum behind it would attract insects.

Tobacco Hornworm

“Parts” on this tobacco hornworm aren’t what they appear to be.

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What looks like an eye is actually a fake eye.

There are four teeny tiny eyes just above the three thoracic legs — the white legs with black bands. They are very hard to see.

The larger black spots along the side of the body are actually spiracles where the caterpillar breathes.

This was the only hornworm feeding on my tobacco plants (nicotina sylvestris).

The moths have a wingspan up to five-and-a-half-inch. The adults visit tubed flowers at dusk.