Although I tend to associate Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) with milkweed, this Monarch was hungrily feeding on Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park. I am not sure why, but I have seen significantly more Monarch butterflies this summer than in the past few years.

Monarch butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

As I was exploring at Huntley Meadows Park this past weekend, I was thrilled to stumble upon this beautiful Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), a species that I have not seen in several years. In the field, I couldn’t remember the differences between a Painted Lady and the similar-looking American Lady. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources on-line, including this helpful comparison page on bugguide.net that shows the differences between the two types. On the basis of the pattern of the eye spots, I concluded that this is almost certainly a Painted Lady.

Painted Lady

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Not a bee

Several years ago, when I first started getting serious about photography, I probably would have called the insect in the photo a bee. My choices back then were simple—a black and yellow insect was either a bee or a yellowjacket. Now that I know a whole lot more about insects, I can readily identify the insect as a hoverfly (also referred to as flower fly) from the Syrphidae family.

When I spotted the hoverfly yesterday, I was struck by the way that its colors matched almost perfect those of the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) that were growing in abundance at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

hover fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

When I first encountered two insects this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park, I thought they were mating. Looking a little closer, I realized it was a robber fly and its prey, which, after some research, I conclude is probably a Striped Horse Fly (Tabanus lineola). In addition to its unusual eyes, check out the sharp mouth parts of the horse fly that are used, I believe, for biting. Ouch!

There is a whole family of robber flies, known as Asilidae, of varying sizes and shapes, including the Red-footed Cannibalfly that I have featured several times recently. This robber fly was considerably smaller than a Red-footed Cannibalfly, but has many of the same general characteristics. They both grasp their prey with their long legs and inject it with saliva that paralyzes the victim. The saliva eventually liquifies the insides of the prey and the robber fly sucks out the liquified material through its proboscis. I think that the robber fly in the photo was in the middle of that process when I spotted it.

Robber Fly

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One of the little woodland butterflies that I see only rarely is the Common Wood Nymph (Cercyonis pegala). I was therefore pretty excited when I spotted this beauty on Friday while it was perched on a tree at Huntley Meadows Park. The yellow patch is so distinctive that it was pretty easy for me to identify this one, unlike so many other woodland butterflies that are mostly brown with different patterns and colors of eye spots on their wings.

Common Wood Nymph

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

In the insect world, Red-footed Cannibalflies (Promachus rufipes) are fearsome predators. Yesterday I spotted one at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia that appeared to be subduing a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) that it had just captured.

What happens next? Wikipedia describes the tactics of a robber fly, the family to which the Red-footed Cannibalfly belongs, in these words:  “The fly attacks its prey by stabbing it with its short, strong proboscis  injecting the victim with saliva containing neurotoxic and proteolytic enzymes which very rapidly paralyze the victim and soon digest the insides; the fly then sucks the liquefied material through the proboscis.”


red-footed cannibalfly subdues hummingbird moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

Gathering pollen

How much pollen can a bee transport at one time? As it circled the inside of a sunflower, this bee filled the pollen baskets on its hind legs with so much bright yellow pollen that I was afraid it would not be able to lift off and fly away. In addition to the very full pollen baskets, which looked like cotton candy to me, the bee was virtually covered with grains of pollen. My fears proved to be unfounded, and the overladen bee was able to carry away its golden treasure.

I think this bee is a bumblebee, though I am no expert on the subject of bees. According to Wikipedia, certain species of bees, including bumblebees and honeybees, have pollen baskets (also known as corbiculae) that are used to harvest pollen. Other bee species have scopae (Latin for “brooms”), which are usually just a mass of hair on the hind legs that are used to transport pollen.

bee pollen

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved