Category Archives: Insects & Butterflies

insects in wetlands

Protecting Pollinators

Protecting Pollinators such as bees, birds, butterflies and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the crops and flowering plants in the United States according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pollinators do this by carrying pollen from one plant to another and when they rub their bodies against the inside of flowers when searching for food or nectar they fertilize other flowers. The pollen is moved from the female part (stamen) to the male part of the other flowers (stigma).

The pictures shown above are of a bumble bee and Monarch Butterfly that I photographed on Long Island, New York. They obviously are crawling around flowers looking for nectar and pollinating other flowers in the process. There must have been over 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the flowers of this one bush.

The Agriculture Industry attributes the value to pollinators and crop production to over $19 billion annually. Many crops in the U.S. could not produce their seeds or fruits without the help of these bees, butterflies, birds  and other flying organisms. Some farms set up bee hives near their crops to ensure their plants get pollinated.

Dangers to the health of pollinators and causes for their decline in numbers which has been happening for years are their loss of habitat, diseases spreading among these organisms, and pesticide use by man. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful information about protecting pollinators on their website which tells citizens how to protect pollinators and prevent the decline of their populations.

 

 

Monarch Butterflies

I came across a large number of Monarch Butterflies while bicycling along a road in Southampton, Long Island this summer. The amazing thing that caught my eye was the number of Monarchs that were flying around and feeding on the flowery shrub along the road. There must have been over a 100 Monarch Butterflies feeding on the nectar of the flowers. The Monarch has black and orange wings with whites dots on the tips of its wings and on its head. There are also black veins running lengthwise down its wings. The pictures shown above are the butterflies I photographed this summer. Click on any one of them for a larger image. 

Monarch Butterflies are unique in the Butterfly kingdom because they only feed on the milkweed plant during its caterpillar or larval stage. The chemicals from the milkweed plant make the Monarch toxic to any predator that might want to feed upon it.  Monarchs are also unique because of their migratory patterns. They fly over 1,200 to 2,800 miles each year from northern states and California to Southern California and Mexico. They also make the return trip when warmer weather returns. They can fly over 20 miles in a single day. I saw this batch of Monarch Butterflies in August which is the start of their trek south from northern states. 

This butterfly is an endangered species because the change in climate which is happening due to global warming disrupts their habitats. The loss of habitat due to human causes such as over development in rural areas also hurts the lifestyle of the Monarch. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service shows the migratory patterns of the Monarch on maps on its website along with other interesting information of this unique butterfly. 

 

 

 

 

Bumble Bees and Honey Bees

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Click on pictures for larger images

I’ve heard a lot of buzz lately about the decline in the bee population in the U.S. which is making it difficult for farmers to get their crops pollinated and plants to grow. Bees transfer pollen from plant to plant with their wings, legs and other body parts when they forage for nectar and pollen which is their food source and in the process move pollen between crops and plants which is necessary for plants to reproduce and grow.

Bees have been declining in numbers because their habitat has also been declining with a rapidly developing landscape and declining quality of air due to pollution. Bees need large areas to forage for nectar and pollen. Honey Bees which are also important pollinators of plants and a source of natural honey for us have been declining because of the spread of diseases and the harmful effect of mites.

Bumble Bees and Honey Bees differ in shape, size and type of nest they live in. According to the Bumble Bee Conservation Organization, bumble bees can be identified by their color, size and place where they live. Bumble Bees live in the wild in nests of 50 to 400 bees.  Honey Bees live in hives consisting of 50,000 to 60,000 bees. They are both important sources of pollinators of plants and food crops. I was therefore happy to see this little guy getting nectar and pollen from a yellow wildflower in a nearby park. County agricultural offices are holding classes for people interested in starting their own Honey Bee hives. You can learn more about bees at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forestry Service.   I also liked the Insect About.com website which gives a concise summary of  the differences between Bumble Bees and Honey Bees.

 

 

 

Wildlife in Florida – Colorful Dragonflies

 

Blue Dragon Fly

Blue Dragon Fly

Pink Dragonfly

Pink Dragonfly

Dragonflies came in many different colors and shapes because there are many different species of them, 60 in California alone. They look dangerous when they fly near you but they are not and do not bite people. They are actually very helpful by keeping the mosquito population in check because they are one of their main food sources. Dragonflies fly very fast and can fly backwards as well which make them unique in this capability. They are usually found near ponds and streams where their prey are found. Dragonflies are preyed on by birds and spiders. You can learn more about dragonflies by visiting http://www.eduwebs.org/bugs/dragonfly.htm

 click on pictures for larger images of dragonflies

 

 

 

 

 

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) The Monarch butterfly is a colorful butterfly with orange and black wings with white spots on the end of its’ wings. I saw and photographed this Monarch in a group of wild flowers on a bush in my neighborhood. The Monarch feeds exclusively in it’s larval stage on the milkweed plant. The milkweed plant gives the butterfly its distinctive colors and also a poisonous chemical mixture in its body that protects it from predators. The Monarchs can be seen all over the United States and Mexico and the ones living in the western part of  the U.S. are famous for their 3,000 mile journey from the northern part of the U.S. to Mexico and Southern California during winter. It will not be able to fly if it’s body temperature drops below 86 degrees and will find a warm sunny place to warm up before they continue flying. The Monarch can produce 4 generations of offspring during their lives. The first three generations live only 2-6 weeks and they mate producing a fourth generation which can live up to 9 months. These insects and other species of wildlife are threatened by the loss of habitat caused by human and natural disruptions of their living areas. The Mexican government has stepped up to protect the Monarch by establishing a 217 square mile reserve in the Sierra Madres Mountains to protect their habitat, called the Monarch Biosphere Reserve.  I found some useful information about the Monarch Butterfly  at the Defenders of Wildlife website and the National Geographic website. click on image for larger picture

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper (Romalea microptera)

This is the adult Eastern Lubber Grasshopper which is found all throughout Florida. I took this picture in the Six Mile Cypress Slough  Preserve in Ft. Myers. They can be found in pine-woods, weedy areas, roadsides and in wetlands which have both wet and dry surfaces. The adult Lubber is known for its bright yellow body and black spots while the baby Lubber is mostly black and has a few yellow stripes. You can see the younger version of the Lubber in one of my previous posts.  I was impressed by its sturdy appearance and its outer covering which looks like a body of armor. The name lubber comes from the English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy and is also related to the word landlubber. The Eastern Lubber grasshopper sheds its outer skin or covering called “molting” several times during its lifetime before it reaches the adult stage. This grasshopper can be damaging to crops and gardens if they gather in large enough populations  by eating the leaves of plants. There numbers are often limited by a parasitic fly whose eggs are ingested by the grasshopper and are toxic to the grasshopper. For more information about the Eastern Lubber Grasshopper you can visit the Univ. of Florida’s Featured Creatures website.

click on  images for larger picture

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary  (Agraulis vanillae)

This butterfly is common in the warm and tropical southeastern part of the United States. It supposedly migrates from Mexico and Latin America. It is bright orange in color and has black stripes. I photographed it in my backyard as it was sitting on top one of the flowers of my Jatropha firebush plant.  This butterfly ingests a toxin from its host plant the passion vine and therefore makes it toxic for predators to eat.  It moves around a lot and was constantly flying from one tree and shrub to another in my yard.

click on image for larger picture

Dragonflies

Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly (ordonata)

The dragonfly not to be confused with a damselfly is one of those scary looking insects flying past you at the speed of light. The dragonfly can be distinguished by other flying insects with it’s 4 transparent wings which are perpendicular to it’s body, long body, and large eyes which almost completely cover it’s head and give it almost 360 degree vision. One of the interesting things about dragonflies are their ability to fly very fast forward, backwards or hover over an object. Dragonflies can see a wider spectrum of colors than humans which allows them to fly around and not bump into other insects. They are found in wetland areas likes ponds, marshes and lakes where they lay their eggs in water. They control the mosquito population by feeding on them. Dragonflies can be traced back almost 250 million years ago and they survived and evolved into many different kinds of insects which is the reason why their scientific classification stops at the order Odonata. They split into different families during their evolution and have thousands of different species that originated from their earlier ancestors. I saw and photographed this dragonfly with its attractive blue body sitting on a bed of water lettuce in the sanctuary at Audubons Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary where I have taken a lot of pictures of old growth Bald Cypress Trees, birds, alligators and other plants and wildlife. I learned about dragonflies while researching them on websites like the Univ. of California Museum of Paleontology, and about.com.

click on picture for larger image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zebra Longwing Butterfly

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing – (Heliconius charitonius)

I saw this Zebra Longwing while walking along a path at the John Yarbrough Ten Mile Canal in Ft. Myers. The Zebra like most butterfly’s don’t stay in one place long enough to take a good picture but I stayed in the same place and waited for this one to land on a flowering plant and stay there long enough to catch it in a photo. The Zebra Longwing is Florida’s state butterfly and it’s host plant is the Corky Stem Passion Vine. I think the wildflower it is feeding on is called the Beggartick.

to see a larger image click on picture and wait for it to adjust in size

 

White Peacock Butterfly

White Peacock Butterfly

White Peacock Butterfly

White Peacock Butterfly – (Anartia jatrophae)

The White Peacock Butterfly is white with brown markings and has orange margins around its wings. It has one black spot on it forewing and two black spots on its hindwings. I spotted this White Peacock while walking along a trail in the Bird Rookery Swamp in Naples. The butterfly can usually be found along pond edges, wetlands areas, canal banks, and roadsides. It’s larval host plants are the water hyssop and frogfruit. Visit the Florida Museum of Natural History to learn and see more butterflies and wildflowers.