Sunday, August 25, 2013

Flies on a Rose

Flower flies. Click to enlarge. 

     From the American haiku poet, James William Hackett --

Two flies, so small
It's a wonder they ever met,
Are mating on this rose. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Milkweed Bugs, Large & Small

Last year I wrote a blog about the milkweed bug Oncopeltus fasciatus, which is also called the large milkweed bug. It's the kind I usually see on milkweed stems and leaves or sunning themselves on objects near milkweed. (Click here for that blog.)

Large milkweed bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus, sunning on a fence rail. Adults sport a bright pattern of two black spots and a wide black band on an orange-red background. 
This week I stopped to look at the milkweed bug pictured below. It was sitting on milkweed flowers where its colors contrasted beautifully with the pink and cream blossoms. Looking more closely I saw by the pattern on its back that it was not the kind I usually see. It was the other milkweed bug: Lygaeus kalmii, also called the small milkweed bug.

A small milkweed bug, Lygaeus kalmii. The adult pattern is usually described as a red X on black, but I see a black heart and three red triangles on a red background. 
Like large milkweed bugs, small milkweed bugs also mainly eat milkweed seeds, piercing them with a sharp beak, injecting enzymes, and then sucking up the dissolved food. Both kinds of milkweed bugs also sometimes drink nectar from flowers -- the one above may have been having a sip when I spotted it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Great Black Wasp

The great black wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus. Click to enlarge.
Great black wasps are big -- up to almost an inch and a half long -- and dramatically black with blue iridescence on the wings. I saw a few of them on summersweet (Cethra alnifolia) and milkweed bushes in Brooklyn Bridge Park this week. Adult great black wasps eat flower nectar and are important pollinators. They dwarfed the honeybees and smaller wasps that were also eating there.

Great black wasps are solitary wasps that do not live in colonies like the familiar yellow jacket wasp. Instead, the female great black wasp digs a multi-chambered tunnel in soft soil to make a nursery for her offspring. She hunts for large insects, usually katydids; stings them to paralyze but not kill; and takes them into the tunnel nest. She provisions the nest with several katydids, lays eggs on them, and then pushes dirt into the nest opening to close it. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the katydids. Then they pupate through the winter and emerge as adults in summer to begin the cycle again.

Great black wasps are sometimes called katydid-killers. It's no coincidence that I see them in Brooklyn Bridge Park where there are flowers (for nectar) and katydids (for baby food) -- everything a great black wasp could want. Click here to see the greater angle-wing katydid, Microcentrum rhombifolium, that I wrote about last summer

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Blue Dasher Dragonfly

The male blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, has a blue abdomen with a black tip. Click to enlarge. 
The female blue dasher has longitudinal yellow stripes on the abdomen. 
Male and female blue dashers are about an inch and a half long. Both have wavy yellow and brown stripes on the thorax, the middle body section where wings and legs are attached.

The blue dasher is one of the most common and abundant dragonflies in the United States. They can be found near still water almost anywhere from Mexico through southern Canada. After mating, females lay eggs on the water; the dragonfly's immature stages are aquatic. Adults capture and eat small flying insects.

The poem below, by the Welsh poet W. H. Davies, inspired the song "Dragonfly" by Fleetwood Mac.

The Dragonfly -- W. H. Davies, 1927

Now, when my roses are half buds, half flowers,
And loveliest, the king of flies has come-
It was a fleeting visit, all too brief;
In three short minutes he has seen them all,
And rested, too, upon an apple tree.

There, his round shoulders humped with emeralds,
A gorgeous opal crown set on his head,
And all those shining honours to his breast-
‘My garden is a lovely place’ thought I,
‘But is it worthy of such a guest?’

He rested there, upon the apple leaf-
‘See, see,’ I cried amazed, ‘his opal crown,
And all those emeralds clustered around his head!’
‘His breast, my dear, how lovely was his breast-’
The voice of my Beloved quickly said.

‘See, see his gorgeous crown, that shines
With all those jewels bulging round its rim-’
I cried aloud at night, in broken rest.
Back came the answer quickly, in my dream-
‘His breast, my dear, how lovely was his breast!’