Sunday, September 2, 2012

Goldenrod Surprises

Goldenrod flowers host an amazing diversity of insects and other creatures, many of which hold surprises that require a closer look:

Goldenrod Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) are one of the most abundant insects on goldenrod. Thousands of these orange and black beetles can be found in a large patch of these flowers. While walking around the field today, I saw a beetle with wings open, perhaps getting ready to take off. But that was not the case. This soldier beetle fell victim to a fungus, Eryniopsis lampyridarum. In an infected area, hundreds of these beetles can be found hanging lifeless underneath the flowers.

With August behind us, the season of butterflies is slowly slipping away. Swallowtails become scarce, and skippers, once filling every flower in the field, have all but disappeared for the year. However, a keen observer may be able to find late-season fliers enjoying the goldenrod and asters. One might find Variegated Fritillaries, Common Buckeyes, Gray Hairstreaks, or maybe a White M Hairstreak, like the one I encountered today.

The white "m" shape and lip-stick red spot on the hindwing are unlike any other species. But the red marking, soft brown background color, and powdery blue hindwing spot are not what make this butterfly incredible.

When the White M Hairstreak takes off, this brown insect transforms into an ephemeral flutter of shimmering cobalt.

Like the soldier beetle, many insects that associate with goldenrod match the color of the flowers. This White-banded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes) sat camouflaged waiting for prey, in this case, an unsuspecting Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons), to land within striking distance.

The leaves are starting to fall from the trees. Birds have started to migrate south for the winter. Although the colder months are fast-approaching, there are still plenty of insects enjoying the variety of late-blooming flowers. Don't forget to take a closer look at the next flower you pass, you may find something extraordinary.

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