Plant It and the Bugs Will Come





Two years ago with the help of NRCS we planted five acres of native N American wildflowers with the purpose of enhancing the habitat for pollinators. This field is now nearing its peak of flowering and the bugs are coming to sample the nectar from the thousands of flowers.

Just as an example two of those beautiful but confusing yellow butterflies have been common in this field, the orange sulphur and the sleepy orange. But butterflies are not just looking for nectar. I found one silver spotted skipper on our front porch nearby that was obtaining sodium salts and other needed metabolic wastes by drinking fluid from a bird dropping! This may seem bizarre but nectar as a food is deficient in some substances. Talk about empty calories!

Other interesting insects are also present on plants in this field. Elderberries have come in as volunteer plants and have attracted one of their spectacular pests which is the elderberry borer. Its larvae live in the plant stems and roots and it apparently picks up toxins from the elderberry and uses these to protect itself from predators. It advertises its toxicity by bright warning colors. This is one of the so-called long horn beetles, which really have long antennae not horns.

There are also dragonflies in the field which might surprise you since they need water to lay their eggs and for the larvae to develop. The female widow skimmer is feeding in this terrestrial habitat while the males hang out at nearby ponds protecting their territories and mating with females which periodically visit the ponds. The females can thus avoid some competition for food with the males.

So our created wildflower meadow is a busy microcosm of insect life and provides a great lesson on the inter-relationships of life and our ability to improve habitats by changing the plant species present.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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