Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Bounteous Black Susan Feast

Last Monday when I did my big walkabout, I noticed that the black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, had started blooming.  These cheerful yellow, daisy-like flowers with their dark purplish brown centers are short-lived perennials that are often used as garden plants as well.

Best of all, black-eyed Susans are native here!  Which means they form a meaningful and important part of the chain of life, hosting insects and other creatures, who in turn provide food for animals further up the food chain.  The following are some of the insects that I saw on the black-eyed Susans last Monday, one hour out of one day.  There were certainly more to be seen, but I'm only including those with moderately clear photographs.

To save space and keep me safe from carpal tunnel syndrome, I will abbreviate the name of the plant to bes (black-eyed Susan) and the name of the flower to besb (as in black-eyed Susan bloom) for the rest of this post.  I'm italicizing the abbreviations just so that you know I haven't made a typo, not because this is a scientific name or convention of any sort.

The very first clump of bes that I came upon was underneath the (sadly) empty martin house directly behind the courtyard.  There was one fading besb in the grouping, a couple fully open blooms, and many buds either just beginning to open or promising future flowers.  Those first few besb yielded...

...a fly with spotted wings and a beetle that I think may be a softwinged flower beetle (Family: Melyridae), as discussed in my friend Professor Roush's recent (and amusing) post on the same.  According to my Insects in Kansas book, melyrid beetles are actually carnivorous, an alternate way of saying they are predators.

Even the one fading besb in that first group was hosting an ant, 2 beetles that may or may not be melyrids, and another mystery insect that fell off when I tried to get a better view of it.

The next photo I have of a besb shows a pearl crescent (Phyciodes tharos) nectaring on it, as well as two distinctly different species of beetles.  The right hand beetle may be another of the melyrids, but the left hand beetle is not, looking more like a weevil in a different shot, but like some flat, broad unknown in this photograph.

Even this small, rather malformed besb was providing nectar to a male common checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis).  The female of this skipper species looks similar, but is distinctly darker in color.  As caterpillars, common checkered-skippers feed on mallow family plants, including hollyhock and poppymallow.

An orange sulfur (Colias eurytheme) found this fresh besb to his liking...

...while a short distance away, this eight spotted flower-loving longhorn (Typocerus octonotatus) was not about to leave its besb, even with a giant human peering at it through a big black eye.  (And, yes, eight spotted flower-loving longhorn is the official common name for this beetle!  Quite a mouthful, isn't it?!)  This species of longhorned beetle feeds on native grasses in its larval stage, so it's most commonly seen on prairies.

And, much as I hate to end on a blurry note, the final besb that I photographed last Monday had both a solitary bee and another beetle on it, even though this bloom, again, seemed well past visual prime.

So the final tally for different species of insects on black-eyed Susan on that one hour walkabout was 3 different kinds of butterflies and/or skippers (pearl crescent, common checkered-skipper, and orange sulfur), at least 3 different species of beetles, a fly, an ant, a mystery insect and a solitary bee.  That I noticed and was able to photograph with varying degrees of clarity.

Hardly extraordinary...yet good to see.  These days, the beauty of flowers seems somehow incomplete to me without insects actively providing extra movement, richness, and a deep sense of their imbeddedness in the local ecosystem. 


Melanie said...

I'm excited to report, that after THREE years of observing puny little plants and small flowers in the susan's I started in the greenhouse from seed. .that I finally see some NICE big plants, with gorgeous blooms and that they have even seeded themselves in the area!! Hee Haw!! Enjoy yours!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Glad you're seeing some success! I don't currently have black-eyed Susan's in my garden (which I really ought to remedy), but I love seeing their cheerful faces out and about the yard.

ProfessorRoush said...

Nice timely post, Gaia...the BES are starting to bloom here as well. I think we've got a melyrid epidemic this year...I don't remember them being noticeable before and they're on everything this year....even the daylilies.

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

You certainly showed a lot of critter activity on the bes. That little pop of yellow really holds its own in a garden/landscape.

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Yes, love those Black eyed beauties!! I have a few that are finally blooming. Have had some bunnies feasting on new growth. Eight spotted flower loving what? hahaha I forgot already, that name is a mouth full!!