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Posts Tagged ‘milkweed’

This seems to be the prime season for butterflies and I have been seeing lots of them this past week. I spotted this spectacular Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) as I was exploring Occoquan Regional Park last Thursday. It was attracted to a pink flowering plant that I think is some kind of milkweed—I am a whole lot more confident in identifying butterflies than plants.

I am happy with both shots, but must that I particularly like the background in the first image.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was really struck  by the contrast in color and texture between this cluster of large milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and the milkweed on which they were perched at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge during a visit earlier this week.

The color combination seems appropriate for a Christmas card, though the subject matter would be considered untraditional, to say the least, and might not be met with enthusiasm by all recipients.

milkweed bugs

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Everyone knows that Monarch butterflies love milkweed, but if you move in closer to the plants, you’ll discover a world of fascinating little creatures, like this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) that I spotted this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia.

Almost three years ago I did a posting in which I acknowledged that I had become obsessed with shooting Red Milkweed Beetles. This weekend I realized that that my initial fascination with my colorful little friends has not diminished much over time when I saw this beetle in a small stand of swamp milkweed. I’m not sure if it is the long antennae or the bold pattern or the bright color that attracts me most—I just know that I love seeing them in all of their developmental forms (they go through several interesting instars as they grow).

The next time you see some milkweed, stop for a moment, examine it closely, and prepare to enter a fascinating little world as the scent of the flowers envelops you.

 

Red Milkweed Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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The few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) that I observed earlier this season were all in gardens, so I was especially happy when I spotted one this past weekend in the wild, feeding on some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) at my local marsh.

The little patch of Swamp Milkweed was a pretty good distance away, so I had to use the long end of my 70-300mm zoom for these shots. It looks like many of the flowers of the milkweed had not yet opened, but the butterfly obviously found it to be attractive enough to stop for a moment.

Monarch Butterfly Huntley MeadowsMonarch Butterfly Swamp Milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Two years ago in a posting, I confessed to being obsessed with photographing Red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus). Inexorably I kept finding myself being drawn back to these bright red beetles.

I thought I had outgrown my obsession, until I encountered several of my little red friend this past weekend at Green Spring Gardens. I immediately reverted to my old behavior and began to stalk them like a paparazzo, trying to get a good shot or any shot at all.

My obsession continues.

Red Milkweed BeetleRed Milkweed BeetleRed Milkweed Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

 

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This bee might argue that it’s just the camera angle, but my initial impression of this bee was that he looked chubby—I don’t think that I have ever encountered a bee with such a round face. He reminds me of a sumo wrestler at the start of a match.

The bee pretty much ignored me, though, and seemed to really get into his work, literally, gathering pollen from some kind of milkweed plant, perhaps swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

chubby_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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If you ever get invited to dinner by a Monarch caterpillar, you know what will be on the menu—milkweed. Monarch caterpillars consume amazing quantities of milkweed (and nothing else), growing over 2,000 times their original mass during this 14-day phase of their lives, according to Rick Steinau.

Almost everything you read emphasizes that milkweed is toxic to humans (and to animals), but scienceviews.com notes that native peoples all over the United States and southern Canada used milkweed for fiber, food, and medicine. The article warns that milkweed may be toxic “when taken internally without sufficient preparation.” It is especially fascinating to read of the medicinal uses of the plant. It was used to treat backaches and bee stings, to induce postpartum milk flow, and to deal with a variety of stomach problems. The Meskwaki tribe, according to the article cited above, even used milkweed as a contraceptive, that worked by producing temporary sterility.

Milkweed, however, contains cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, but also may account for its medicinal effect.  Symptoms of poisoning by the cardiac glycosides include dullness, weakness, bloating, inability to stand or walk, high body temperature, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils, spasms, and coma. (It sounds a lot like being in love!)

I don’t care how well Monarch caterpillars can prepare milkweed, if they invite me over for dinner, I think I’ll probably refrain from eating and just watch them eat (as I did this past weekend). I love Monarch butterflies in all their forms. Nevertheless, I would take my cue from the artist Meat Loaf, who sang, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”

Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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