Monarchs and Milkweed at Wilkerson Nature Preserve

i Jul 13, 2015 No Comments by

Authored by Bryan England, Asst. Manager, Wilkerson Nature Preserve

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It has been a few weeks since our last update (from Wilkerson) and the weather has turned HOT, but the established milkweeds in our East Pasture don’t seem to mind, going on growing and blooming despite it all.  “Your” newly planted milkweeds in the West Pasture have depended on regular watering from staff and devoted volunteers to stay perky.

The caterpillars seen a few weeks ago have all disappeared now.  I’ve noticed that monarch caterpillars would sometimes “disappear” from a plant during the day, only to reappear again on the same plant later, so I know the “disappearance” of a caterpillar doesn’t prove it has died – it may just have moved downstem somewhere (maybe caterpillars need a break from the heat too?).  But recently the disappearances seem to have become permanent – this may mean the caterpillars have entered chrysalises hidden under leaves or attached somewhere else in the dense grass.  If I manage to find one, I’ll send a picture in a later update.

Meanwhile, the pause in monarch caterpillars is a chance to look at some of the other creatures who also use, or even depend on milkweed, besides the monarchs.


Silver-spotted Skipper on Milkweed flower. Photo by Bryan England.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Milkweed flower. Photo by Bryan England.

First, another butterfly.  This Silver-spotted Skipper doesn’t lay eggs on milkweed, but it does pollinate the flowers.  This butterfly is said to avoid yellow flowers, but these pink milkweed blossoms seemed to suit it just fine.  Milkweed nectar serves many more species than just milkweed specialists.


Red Milkweed Beetles. Photo by Bryan England

Red Milkweed Beetles. Photo by Bryan England

Next, a beetle, or rather, two beetles (viewer discretion advised).  Called Red Milkweed Beetles, this species is a milkweed specialist, like the monarch.  The bright red color of the adult beetles (like the orange of an adult monarch) is a warning that they are packed with milkweed toxins, and predators should think twice before eating too many of these seemingly easy targets.


Scaphoideus incises, a leafhopper nymph. Photo by Bryan England

Scaphoideus incises, a leafhopper nymph. Photo by Bryan England

Finally, a bug.  This tiny black-and-white nymph is the young form a true bug known as a leafhopper.  Most leafhopper nymphs are camouflaged in green or brown, but this nymph really stands out.  Could the black-and-white tuxedo pattern also be a warning, similar to the black-and-white stripes of a monarch caterpillar? Little is known about this insect, which only has a scientific name: Scaphoideus incises.  Reports suggest it is particularly found on milkweed and has a wide distribution in North America, but is not seen often.  This specimen, found on one of “your” milkweeds planted at Wilkerson, was the first report of this species in Wake County (special thanks to Brian Bockhahn of NC State Parks for confirming the ID!).
So while we wait for the next generation of monarchs to appear, I hope you all enjoyed meeting some of our other milkweed insects.



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