Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Plants and Pollinators at Woods Hollow

Cool and cloudy yesterday, with forecasts for heavy rain. Not a good day to venture far afield, but Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in nearby Ballston Spa seemed like a good place for a quick walk around the pond.  No wind at all, so the pond lay glassy and still as a mirror.

On my way to the pond through the woods, I was delighted to see many Pipsissewa plants (Chimaphila umbellata) in full and beautiful bloom.

The small white flowers and glossy green leaves of Swamp Dewberry (Rubus hispidus) sprawled across the pine-needle-carpeted forest floor.

I saw many of the heart-shaped leaves of Dalibarda (Dalibarda repens) lying flat to the forest floor, but among all those leaves, only one flower could be seen.  It's early yet, to see this pretty woodland flower in full bloom.

Low shrubs of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) had exploded into bloom, just in time for the Fourth of July. Their tiny white star-shaped flowers and flower buds remind me of the exploding starry spangles of fireworks.

Emerging from the shaded woods, I walked to an open area at the edge of the pond and was enchanted by the wonderful clove-scented fragrance emitted by a huge patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

I spent a good long time standing in the middle of that milkweed patch, just breathing in that sweet scent.  And I wasn't the only ones attracted to these beautiful fragrant blooms. This Bumble Bee and Silver-spotted Skimmer were busily feeding on what this native wildflower had to offer, pollen for the bee and nectar for the butterfly.

I was surprised to see so many dragonflies patrolling this patch, since I didn't think they consumed either pollen or nectar, being predators of smaller insects. So I imagine this powder-blue, green-faced male Eastern Pondhawk was lurking here in the hope of snagging some of the flying insects drawn to the milkweed's color and fragrance.

Another dragonfly was resting here, a female Widow Skimmer.

Dozens of pollen-eating wasps were whizzing around the rosy orbs of milkweed blooms, including many coal-black wasps with cobalt-blue wings . This is the Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus), and yes, it is a large one.  But we have nothing to fear from these placid wasps, since they are solitary ground-nesters with no colony to defend.  They save their stinging venom for the insects that constitute their prey, which they paralyze with a sting or two before carrying the still-living insect back to their nests for their newly hatched offspring to feast on.

To see these wasps in Katydid-killing action, come visit my post from last summer:

Here is another pollen-eater found dining on milkweed today, the gorgeous golden-haired creature with red legs and red-banded abdomen called the Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus). This wasp is also a nonaggressive solitary nester that saves her venom for the live-but-paralyzed prey she brings home to the nest she has dug in the earth (the males do not assist her, neither in digging the nest nor capturing and conveying the prey).  She places the prey in the nest, lays her eggs on the living captive, then closes the entrance for good.  The eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the captive, then pupate and emerge as adults from the ground.

But the most abundant insect found among the milkweed was the aptly named Red Milkweed Beetle. Nearly every plant had these bright-scarlet, black-dotted beetles either scrambling over the milkweed's green leaves or pausing to do what comes naturally to a beetle in mating season.

Was this lone Red Milkweed Beetle just a voyeur, or was he hoping to join the party over on the next milkweed leaf?

Looks like this one is moving in, either for a closer view or to challenge his rival.

I did see a number of these beetles engaged in what looked to be battles for dominance. Here, the winner of this battle has flipped his rival onto his back. As soon as the defeated one could, he got to his feet and scurried away.


The Furry Gnome said...

I'll look for those red beetles on the Milkweed that's just starting to flower here.

threecollie said...

The scent of milkweed is so seductive! Our patch by the porch was wiped out by some disease last summer, sadly.

Woody Meristem said...

Very nice photos of the insects drawn to the flowers. It's always nice to get into a patch of milkweed and enjoy the aroma of the flowers.

Greg Prosmushkin said...
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