There Must Be Magic

By GirlWithACamera

In the Milkweed Patch: Fritillaries & Red Beetles

They've been paving a number of roads around our house, which has interfered a bit with my walking. Two out of three of the directions I normally go on my daily walks are impacted; only Stonerow is still safe!

They actually got some of the paving done more or less on schedule, but the roads are tarry and messy and stinky. So I've adjusted my walks. Between the paving and the air quality issues (for which I've been wearing a mask outdoors), it sometimes feels like somebody is trying to steal my joy!

So I didn't go up to my favorite pond in the Barrens; that road is sticky right now, and I'll give it a few days to settle down. But I did visit the milkweed patch on the corner, right under the power lines that lead to the gamelands. What great smells the milkweed plants were giving off. And goodness, they were active!

First, I saw a pair of fritillaries, which are orange butterflies. I'm not certain of the variety, but I'm going with great spangled fritillary, which is awfully fun to say. It sounds like a parade, spilling off one's tongue! The two butterflies played all around me, but I didn't get any shots with both of them in it. So above is a picture of just one. Gotta love that proboscis!

Now, I must venture into delicate territory with the next tale. For there were red milkweed bugs on the milkweed, and it was like Peyton Place. There was romance afoot on this day, and somehow, I even got involved in it!

A smaller red milkweed beetle was on top of a much larger milkweed beetle (female, I presumed) near the top of the plant. They were having a romantic interlude, which I wanted to photograph. A third milkweed bug seemed to be watching from not far away.

As I drew my camera lens nearer to the bugs, the lady (the larger bug, on the bottom) pulled away and marched up the plant, where she began chewing on the leaves with ferocity. (You may see her in the extras, chomping away. Doesn't it look like she has TEETH?)

After she left, the two smaller red milkweed beetles (males, I presume) got into a wrestling match, apparently over her favors. As she munched away happily, the two males were smacking the crap out of each other on the blooms below!

Now, I had to look all of this up, which I often do with my camera and natural history elements. The Bug Lady has a marvelous posting on red milkweed beetles that you need to read. It says:

When the milkweeds are thick with females, males (which are smaller than females) become picky, and they favor larger females (plus-sized females have “greater reproductive value”—they pop out more eggs daily and cumulatively). When males outnumber females, males become competitive. Bigger males not only tend to be victorious, they tend to exclude from their smaller brethren all nearby females, not just the maiden in question.

The posting goes on to talk about how the red milkweed bugs (MRBs) VOCALIZE, and it says that they make sounds like purrs or squeaks, but mostly only if you pick them up (which I didn't). She quotes bug expert Richard Alexander:

Alexander goes on to say that squeaking is produced when MRBs are held in the fingers, are exploring a cage, are stuck in a milkweed blossom, are placed on or fall on their backs, or are fighting (one beetle is gripping another with its mandibles). RMBs combine squeaking and purring when held in a closed fist, and when two individuals meet and touch antennae or crawl over each other. They will purr when standing motionless; but when they are quietly going about the business of crawling and feeding on milkweeds, they may purr or squeak.

Now, I did not myself hear any purring or squeaking among the red milkweed beetles, but I sure will know to listen more closely the next time I see some. And I shall do so all in the name of science, of course. If you see me somewhere by the road, please don't mind me. I'm just the girl over here chatting it up with the randy milkweed bugs!

It's my custom to include a soundtrack song. For the first photo, my fritillary chowing down on milkweed, I've got Bruce Springsteen with Hungry Hearts. And for my photo of the female red milkweed beetle who may be eating out of either satisfaction or frustration (hey, who knows what phase of romance I interrupted), here's Sammy Davis Jr. with Talk to the Animals.

P.S. In other photographic news, I've decided to move my photo library off my computer. I intended to have one photo library for each year, but the one I have now is already large enough at half-year that I know the rest of the year won't end up fitting on it. So it's fish or cut bait time. I moved the existing library (Callista) onto a Sandisk 512 GB external drive, and created a new one (Destiny, yes I'm naming them in alpha order).

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