A Mid-Migration Snack

 

While late October’s Maximilian sunflowers clearly appealed to the Gulf fritillary butterflies I featured in a recent post, the migrating monarchs in the same Brazoria County field seemed to prefer the flowers of Salvia azurea, commonly known as blue sage or pitcher sage.

Whether they found the salvia’s nectar more to their taste or simply enjoyed the extra wing-room the plants offered is hard to say, but seeing two beautiful butterfly species feasting on two equally beautiful plants delighted me.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Snowy Flurries

For some, changing colors on trees or shrubs provide a first hint of the coming fall. Here on the upper Texas coast, autumn arrives differently, flying in on the wings of migrating birds.

Teal arrive first, followed closely by peripatetic mallards. Last week, the calls of returning osprey began echoing across Galveston Bay. Yesterday I realized the swallows had flown away, but their space soon will be filled by an assortment of geese, raptors, and cranes.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) shows off its ‘golden slippers’ as it prepares to land

While snowy egrets stay with us throughout the year, their numbers increase in the fall as birds return to their favored coastal marshes, inland mudflats, agricultural land, and drainage ditches.

Like the proverbial birds of a feather, they roost and nest together; last weekend I found a large flock hidden away along a canal in the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

Touching down

Sometimes referred to as ‘Golden Slippers’ because of their yellow feet, egrets also have yellow lores (the area between their bill and their eyes), which change to a deeper salmon or pinkish-orange during the breeding season.

Showing off, perhaps?

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, their plumes sold for nearly twice the cost of gold, and were used to decorate women’s hats. Inevitably, they were hunted nearly to extinction, but after the passage of laws meant to protect them, their numbers increased. Today, they’re a common sight: their golden slippers worth as much as any gold, and their developing plumes a hint of courtships to come.

 

Comments always are welcome. Click any image for a larger, more detailed view.

 

Gulf Coast Autumn: Orange

A gathering of the clan
(click image for more detail)

The large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus,  feeds on the seeds, leaves and stems of assorted milkweeds. Here, at least three instars, or developmental stages, of the bug have gathered on Asclepias asperula, the antelope horn milkweed: adults, near-adults with little black wing buds, and the very small, mostly orange nymphs.

Milkweed bugs not only resemble monarch butterflies, they’re just as distasteful to predators because of toxic compounds contained in the milkweed sap they ingest. The easily recognizable orange-and-black color scheme common to these nasty-tasting insects, called Müllerian mimicry after German naturalist Fritz Müller, offers the bugs a degree of protection.

In late summer or early autumn,  the number of milkweed bugs in coastal Texas begins to burgeon as result of another similarity to monarchs. After spending the summer in northern states and southern Canada, the bugs begin to migrate toward southern states and Mexico, where milkweed still is available. According to entomologist Michael J. Raupp:

Their annual migration south is triggered by shortening day length, cooling temperatures, and declining quality of milkweed plants as food. Titers of a glandular product called juvenile hormone signal the milkweed bug’s ovaries to take a “time-out”, and trigger flight behavior that transports the milkweed bug to warm southern lands where milkweeds grow.
Once the southward migration is complete, juvenile hormone levels rise, ovaries are switched on, and reproduction resumes. In spring, the migratory pattern reverses and generations of large milkweed bugs leap-frog their way northward to colonize milkweeds as far north as Canada.

Clearly, the milkweed bug needs a better press agent. Its migratory habits are fully as impressive as those of the monarch, but most people tend to prefer a butterfly over a bug. Still, milkweed bugs, interesting and handsome in their way, are worth seeking out where autumn milkweed continues to thrive.

 

Comments always are welcome.