Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Flying Confetti Garden, Part I

The asters have been beautiful in my front garden this year. First the New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) bloomed, joined soon after by the little bargain-bin Lowe's asters (Aster x) that I got for 50 cents last year and stuck in just to see if they'd make it. Just as all of those were beginning to fade, one of the aromatic asters (Aster oblongifolius) started in, and as it hit full bloom, it was joined by the second aromatic aster, which is only now beginning to dim. Looking back over my photos, I've had almost 2 months of aster blooms this fall.

Almost more spectacular than the asters themselves are the insects that are attracted to their blooms. For weeks now when I walk by the asters, a cloud of butterflies and other insects flies into the air, then settles back down again. I feel like I'm surrounded by brightly colored, living confetti!

About 3 weeks ago I spent several hours trying to capture close-up shots of the insects feeding on the aromatic asters. Here are a few of them....

This little bee has full pollen baskets, although she seems to be busily collecting even more to pack in. It always gives me a little thrill to see the pollen baskets on the hind legs of bees. I have no idea why, but I love them. (For scale, the blooms in all of these photos are actually about 1" in diameter.)

To the right is a syrphid fly. These little guys are colored to look like bees or wasps, but they have no stingers and can cause no harm to humans. The adults feed at the flowers, while the larvae are great predators on aphids, making this a very beneficial insect to find in your garden.

I think this little bee to the left is a leafcutter bee, although I'm not completely sure. If I'm right, this is the insect that cuts circular shaped pieces of leaf from roses, green ash and others. It uses the pieces of leaves to line its nest cells. The cells are packed with pollen and nectar and a single egg is laid in each cell. The insect overwinters as a pupa in its cell and emerges in the spring. There is one generation per year. Leafcutter bees do generally cosmetic damage to some leaves, but are important pollinators - a function that is increasingly important as honeybee populations continue to decline.
To the right is a skipper, a common relative of moths and butterflies that rarely seems to get noticed. If you look carefully, you can see the straw-like mouth coming out of the front of the head and curving down into the flower. This species always carries its wings in this "power jet" formation.
I have many more photos of insects from this aster, but time is running away from me for now, so I'll have to add more later.

No comments: