Sunday, June 21, 2015

Milkweed Inspector

I decided to check on the five species of Milkweeds (or Dogbanes) I'm familiar with around Oakland Camp this morning, mainly to see what sorts of insect and spider visitors I might find.  The above specimen is Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.  Until recently, the milkweeds of the genus Asclepias were placed in their own family, the Asclepiadaceae.  Now they are combined with the dogbanes, Apocynaceae.  I still like to call all of them milkweeds.  That's because I talk to more people who are not botanists than people who are.  Plus, I am not a botanist and I like to communicate with people.  On some of my visits to the area north of the camp, the Showy Milkweed hosts the greatest variety and numbers of invertebrate visitors.  But on this day, the winner was the Narrow-leaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis (3rd photo).
This fragrant Showy Milkweed was being visited by a California Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa californica. I know a lot of these plants and insects by their "common" names, but I usually look up their scientific names as a mental exercise and to discover relationships that are interesting.  Also, using manuals like Jepson's helps me to confirm whether I have identified them correctly.  Having specialized in reptiles and amphibians while pursuing my zoology degree, I suspect I make a few errors when identifying flowers and bugs.  I welcome corrections.
Here's a specimen of Narrow-leaf Milkweed, A. fascicularis.  This milkweed blends in with the surrounding grasses and other weeds better than the Showy and Heart-leaf milkweeds.  Click on the photo for a larger view and the milkweed stands out a bit more clearly.
This beautiful big Common Checkered Clerid beetle was the most abundant visitor today.  This one is on a Narrow-leaf Milkweed, but I found them on all four species I photographed as well as on other kinds of flowers.
This is the Small Milkweed Bug (The name doesn't sound too official, does it?), Lygaeus kalmii.  This one was very active and was continually trying to hide in the flowers and stems.  This was the best I could do at getting a clear photo of one.  In some past posts to this blog you can find examples of this bug mating.
Also on the Narrow-leaf Milkweed (above) is a specimen of the Spined Assassin Bug, Pselliopus spinicollis.  This looks like the type of bug that could deliver a mean bite accompanied by diseases.  I didn't pick it up.
The Purple- or Heart-leaved Milkweed, Asclepias cordifolia, is the furthest along in its seasonal cycle, having lost its petals and gone to seed.  Also, I didn't see any bugs on them.
Last is the Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum adrosaemifolium.  This one seems to carry simultaneously flowers in every stage of development all the way through the seed pods (See two such pods curved toward each other at the top of the plant.).  Earlier in the season these were frequented by lots of Checkerspot and Swallowtail butterflies and Goldenrod Crab Spiders.  I didn't see any insect or spider activity on them today. 
The other dogbane, Indian Hemp, Apocynum cannabinum, grows in a different location on the other side of camp so I didn't track it down today.  Based on yesterday's observations, there were just a few flowers and fewer insects on the Indian Hemp, and most of the plants I usually visit were destroyed by the last visit of the notorious weed eaters.
I saw and photographed lots of other kinds of flowers this morning and I'll post them tomorrow.

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