My attempt to rescue 4 monarch caterpillars that were about to eat out their food source seemed to fail, despite my provisioning them with 6 white milkweed and 2 swamp milkweed plants from 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery. The last - and largest - of the caterpillars curled up in a question mark on the soil surface one day and then disappeared overnight. Eaten? Probably. Pupated somewhere? Possibly. At any rate, I have no more monarch caterpillars to watch right now.
However, I do have my 8 milkweed plants. Making me quite sure that these plants weren't being treated with neonics, my milkweeds came pre-supplied with bright yellow aphids. A little research on BugGuide.net informed me that these aphids are oleander aphids, Aphis nerii. Oleander aphids are actually native to the Mediterranean area, but they have become common around the globe, having traveled everywhere on oleander plants. Oleander aphids are especially common on oleander and on milkweed plants, although they are known to feed on several other types of plants as well.
syrphid fly, Ocyptamus fuscipennis, known both for its dark colored wings and its diet of aphids in the larval stage. That's just my best guess, however. It's not a verified identification.
As I was trying, again and again, to get a clear photo of one of the syrphid flies, I suddenly noticed a couple tiny, tiny wasps walking among the aphids. As I looked through the camera lens, I watched one of the wasps curl its abdomen and seem to poke the aphids individually. This was a little odd, because the wasp curled its abdomen relatively far away from the aphids, but I was sure that it was laying eggs on them. Again I took photos, but again I didn't get any good shots - to get clear photos of such minuscule insects, I needed a tripod for stability and a windless day with no sway in the plant stems.
braconid wasps, which parasitize aphids by inserting an egg in an individual aphid. The egg hatches and the larval wasp eats the aphid from the inside, killing the aphid and leaving an "aphid mummy", which is essentially the shell of the aphid with the larva, then pupa, of the wasp inside. When the wasp emerges from its pupal stage, it cuts a hole in the aphid mummy and emerges, to repeat the cycle. If you click on the link I've highlighted, you'll see a great photo posted on BugGuide.net of one of these wasps in egg-laying stance, ready to lay an egg on an oleander aphid.
Note: Looking at several of my photos from this series, there are many little dots on them. The dots were only visible when I enlarged the images and they only occurred in the middle of the milkweed plants. I don't think it was a dirty lens (although I will certainly be cleaning it to verify). There is also a small, beetle-like insect on the vein of the milkweed leaf in the very bottom right of the photo above, which I haven't identified. I think it might be some sort of weevil, but that is simply another guess.
So right now, with no milkweed blooms to be had, I've already got 4 species that are relying on my milkweeds for the basis of their life cycle: monarchs, oleander aphids, a syrphid fly, and a braconid wasp. I've also seen examples of herbivory (monarch caterpillars and oleander aphids), predator-prey relationships (syrphid flies and aphids), and parasitism (braconid wasps and aphids). Pretty cool for February!