Friday, October 31, 2008

The Flying Confetti Garden, Part II

Continuing on with my enjoyment of all the insect life drawn to my aromatic asters (Aster oblongifolius) this fall, the most obvious insects that I see on the vivid purple flowers are the butterflies. As I walk by, it's their drifting flight that swirls around me and brightens the very air I'm passing through.

While I've seen several different butterfly species drawn to the asters, the most common butterflies I see nectaring on these flowers are the painted ladies. It's not uncommon for my 3' diameter aster to have a dozen or more painted ladies on it at any one time.

Apparently painted ladies live on five different continents, making them the most widespread butterfly on Earth. They can't survive freezing temperatures, so the only adults to live through the winter months are those in the south. In the spring, they migrate northward, occasionally even outpacing the monarchs!

Not surprisingly given their large distribution, the hairy/spiny caterpillars of the painted ladies are generalists, eating thistles, mallows such as hollyhocks, legumes and other plants. Occasionally they occur in such numbers that they become noticed as pests. (I doubt, though, that most people able to identify the caterpillars as painted ladies would be quick to destroy them, even if their hollyhock leaves were getting eaten to a nub.)

As these colorful butterflies descend on my asters, I can easily watch the "ladies" daintily unfurl their tightly rolled tongues and sip nectar elegantly through their straws...

and sometimes I have to witness the end of their graceful lives.
Funny, when the black & yellow garden spider catches and eats a grasshopper or wasp, she seems like a heroine, but when she captures and eats a painted lady, her reputation as a villainess jumps immediately to mind.

No matter what she's eating, the black and yellow garden spider is gaining protein for her eggs, next year's black & yellow garden spiders. Hopefully her prey, the graceful painted lady, has already left progeny to give us next year's painted ladies too. Nature's balance is often difficult to watch objectively, but it's worked for millenia. For our own good, we might be a little less quick to judge and a little slower to interfere in the balance of life.


dejavaboom said...

I've been away for a spell and missed so much on your blog. AMAZING photos! (More as I catch up with you.)

Gaia gardener said...