Milkweed & Monarch Garden Tour – 2018

Returning home after a year of sabbatical travels… it is great to be back in Ithaca, and a quick 30 minute survey of my garden revealed the intact milkweed-insect community. I promise to have the next post on Milkweeds (really Pachypodiums) and (African) Monarchs from Madagascar soon. But, for now, here is summer in the milkweed patch…

It has been raining and humid for a week…. much is blooming, although common milkweed is mostly done flowering now at the end of July.
faded mon adult Aug 2018
A faded monarch adult, roaming around and laying eggs
The last of my Asclepias syriaca blooms. Note the dark brown dots “corpuscula” that attach to the milkweed’s polinia.
As I turn over my first leaf, a familiar biting and deactivation of latex is visible. Tetraopes, the four-eyed milkweed beetle, has apparently been here.  Ahh, yes, the living proof next door…4
A snail checks out a yellowing low leaf, perhaps taking advantage of the latex-de-activation already provided by Tetraopes.
Two of the three milkweed aphids are present, this is Aphis asclepiadis, nearly always tended by (read: protected by) ants (who eat the aphids’ poop).
Along my driveway, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is still flowering.
And on it a monarch has perished.
I am okay with this, an important part of the food chain! Go stinkbug!
Nearby butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, continues to open new flowers.  This is a sweat bee (Halictidae, I think) that couldn’t wait for the bud to open.
And long past flowering was my poke milkweed, Asclepias exaltata, which hosted this milkweed tussock moth caterpillar (a misnomer, as the insect belongs to the tiger moth family, Arctiidae).
Still on poke milkweed was one of the hundreds (likely thousands) of Lygaeus bugs in my garden… seeking milkweed sap, but really waiting for seed pods to open.
It is late enough in the summer that another milkweed aphid has arrived. Aphis nerii does not survive the winters here, but does recolonize every summer from the south.  Not quite “migration” because there is no return trip — just aphids that freeze on frozen milkweed.
The leaf mining fly Liriomyza asclepiadis is also abundant on common milkweed as well as poke milkweed (but less so on swamp and butterfly milkweed). Note the translucent yellow wormy body smack dab in the middle next to the squiggle of frass (insect poop!)
The redring milkweed (A. variegata) native to the south eastern USA…. growing them in my yard to try and generate seeds for experiments.  Damn aphids!
Thanks to Steve Broyles from SUNY Cortland for providing this experimentally generated hybrid between common milkweed and butterfly weed.  I can see some hybrid traits…. but I cannot wait for the flowers.
Alas, summer is moving too quick, and the seed pods are maturing.  The next generation of monarchs — if they survive — will migrate.
And finally, a teaser from Madagascar… I will report on monarchs and milkweed from our last month away soon.  This post is dedicated to the memory of Lincoln Brower, who did a tremendous amount towards understanding the biology and conservation of monarchs.  Thanks for reading.  All my best, -Anurag

One Reply to “Milkweed & Monarch Garden Tour – 2018”

  1. Hey Anurag, I hope you had a nice vacation. There’s been 10s of thousands of us holding down the fort while you’ve been gone but now we need your prefixes, suffixes, and what you have learned about bugs etc. to start moving the needle for monarchs and subsequently other butterflies and pollinators in general and eventually all bugs. The only thing monarchs take from ecology are a few leaves from mostly not very attractive plants and as a result, if they make it through their stages and reach flight stage, they pollinate a few flowers but mostly appeal to the human sense of beauty. Most everyone agrees they are beautiful, want more beauty and, and 10s of thousands of us actually protect them from their dozens of predators until they’re in flight where they can fly away from their predators and of course we get to enjoy them as they live their life flying from flower to flower. Of course those who can’t get enough, who can afford it, take a sojourn to Mexico so they can see hundreds of millions all at the same time. You would have to agree, humans are pretty over the top.
    I looked and read the post above and noticed you are concerned about most all bugs including monarch predators are your friend and you know all their funny names as well as a lot of their common names novices can relate to. Of course most of them are ugly from the eyes of most although it appears you are attracted to them for there value adding to the cycle of things and the food chain in nature.
    As you know Monika wrote an article last month about also called the Monarch Research Project in Iowa. I advised the cofounders Cam Watts and Clark McLeod from their beginnings in 2015 and they have developed a pretty sophisticated program and have involved almost 150 citizens in their community raising and releasing monarchs as well as have helped finance some programs to restore prairie throughout their community to contribute to the bug population as well as add beauty to the area. This is the most sophisticated program in the country pursuing monarch population increase and habitat restoration.
    As a bug man you may be missing some important aspects of raising and releasing “bug food” so that it can fly around, lay eggs, and contribute over 90% of them to the ugly bugs so that humans can enjoy the under 10% that make it to flight. As you know Anurag monarchs aren’t predators they are only prey. They have no claws and not even a mouth let alone teeth. Besides their beauty all they are really good for is feeding the entire wildlife food chain from the bottom up. Humans don’t even have to deliver it. Monarchs fly in most areas in the the 48 states and many other places in the world. It’s a matter of fact most butterflies are no more than food for the chain of all wildlife. The more their are, the more wildlife there is Right ?
    As you said Anurag, there’s plenty of milkweed. I went out and looked after all the monarchs started heading south. There’s enough milkweed left in September on the summer breeding grounds to feed bilions of monarchs let alone a few hundred million. I would appreciate it if you would use your credibility and go out and document the milkweed still on the landscape in September for proof there’s plenty.
    Further, I would like you to support one of the few viable ways to get millions of citizens educated and involved in preserving the ecology of our planet from the bottom up by encouraging people to plant pollinator gardens in their yards so there will be a supplemental water source available when the next catastrophic drought hits and drives wildlife numbers down.
    I would also like you to support the 10s of thousands of citizens who are finding eggs and caterpillars on their milkweed in their backyards and protecting them until they are butterflies and then releasing them if for no other reason than they will help feed the entire chain of wildlife. If you’re interested in contacting me google Craig TheButterflyman. Or

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