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Posts Tagged ‘cardinal flower’

Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) are now in bloom at Huntley Meadows Park. In addition to being beautiful, these vivid red flowers attract butterflies, like this Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus) that I spotted this past weekend at the park.

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday as I was watching some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) buzzing around some distant trumpet flowers at Huntley Meadows Park, one of them suddenly flew closer to a small patch of cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis).  The shutter speed was too slow to stop the action completely, but you can see how perfectly the hummingbird’s bill fits into the long tubular flower that is too narrow for most bees to reach.

Hummingbirds fly really fast, so I wasn’t too surprised that there was a lot of motion blur in my shots. I was a bit shocked, however, to see that my shutter speed had fallen to 1/100 of a second for these shots, which is, of course, way too slow for the subject, particularly because I was shooting with my zoom lens at 600mm handheld. When I was focusing on the sitting hummingbird that I included as the final shot here, there was considerably more light and the subject was stationary and I did not make any adjustments when the hummingbird flew to a darker area with the cardinal flowers.

If you look closely at the shot of the perched hummingbird, you may notice that it has tiny feet. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, “The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch. Nevertheless, it scratches its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.”

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I used to think that there were only one or two varieties of black-colored swallowtails, but as I learned there were more such species (some deliberating mimicking each other), I’d sometimes get confused and frustrated when trying to distinguish among them.

For example, I encountered this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly feeding on a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) this past weekend at my local marsh. It is definitely an unusual circumstance when I can identify a flower, but not the insect.

So, I asked myself, is this a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or a Pipevine Swallowtail or a Spicebush Swallowtail or a Black Swallowtail? How can you tell them apart, given they are all black and all have swallowtails?

While searching on the internet, I came across a wonderful blog posting on a site called Louisiana Naturalist that compared all four of these swallowtail species and pointed out clearly the distinguishing marks. Once I looked at the posting, it was pretty clear that “my” butterfly is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Why am I so confident? One of the identifying marks is the blue comet-like marking that interrupts the inner row of orange spots.

It’s interesting to see this butterfly feeding on the Cardinal Flower. The website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas states that the Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds for pollination, because most insects find its long tubular flowers difficult to navigate. I suspect that butterflies play a role in pollinating these plants, even if they are not as efficient as bees would be (or maybe even hummingbirds).

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the look of this black-colored swallowtail butterfly feeding on a cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in the marsh—I just wish that I could identify the butterfly with greater certainty.

I used to think that there were only a few varieties of black-colored swallowtails, but as I learn about more species, I get more confused when trying to identify them. Most of the time I think that this is a Pipevine Swallowtail, but at other moments I convince myself that this is a Spicebush Swallowtail or even a Black Swallowtail. Whatever species it is, this butterfly kept its wings flapping pretty quickly as it was feeding, which accounts for the motion blur in the wings.

I really like the color and shape of the cardinal flower and wanted to show some of the buds and petals, so I decided not to crop the shot any tighter. I was a little surprised to find this butterfly on the cardinal flower, because I read in one document on the internet that these flowers are pollinated almost exclusively by hummingbirds.

swallowtail_cardinal_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was attracted initially by the bright red color of a cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), but then I noticed a small amount of movement. When I looked more closely, I realized there was a tiny bee—the smallest that I have ever seen—busily gathering pollen. Rather than gathering pollen in little sacs, as I had seen other bees do, this bee seemed to be collecting it on his abdomen.

I don’t know much about plant anatomy, but as I searched on the internet, I learned some fascinating things about the cardinal flower, especially from a blog posting by Eye on Nature dealing with the way in which hummingbirds pollinate cardinal flowers. That posting contains some detailed images of the cardinal flower as well as some fantastic shots of a hummingbird.

I shot these images handheld with my 180mm macro lens. Ideally I should have used my tripod to get clearer shots, but the bee was so active that I feared that it would be gone if I had taken the time to set up the tripod.

It’s hard to appreciate the small size of the “bearded” section of the cardinal flower, so I enclosed an overall look at the flower as a final photo.

tiny_bee_blogtiny_bee2_blogtiny_bee-3_blogcardinal_flower_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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