Coneflower Critters

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

I’ve been observing a patch of purple coneflowers in our backyard. The coneflowers themselves are both attractive and interesting. Some people believe that extracts from native coneflowers (a.k.a. echinacea) help fight the common cold. The critters coneflowers attract are fascinating.

Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Bumble bees and honey bees are regular visitors. I see them almost every time I look in on the coneflower patch. Bumble bees are North America’s only native social bees. Honey bees are, of course, social as well, but they aren’t native. The first honey bees in North American were brought by European colonists in 1622.

Tricolored Bumble Bee

Tricolored Bumble Bee

Even though they are also common, I still get excited when I find a tricolored bumble bee. The band of orange fuzz makes them special.

Sweat Bee

Sweat Bee

Some sweat bees are even more colorful than tricolored bumble bees. Although sweat bees are reputed to be attracted to human sweat, I’ve yet to be bothered by sweat bees while photographing in our coneflower patch. Maybe these small bees are too busy gathering pollen to notice that I sweat profusely while watching them fly from plant to plant under the hot summer sun. Or maybe my camera scares the sweat bees away. They seem much more easily startled by quick movements than bumble bees and honey bees. Only after repeated attempts was I able to get a sweat bee photo that I liked.

Spider Web

Spider Web

The coneflowers host predators as well. I found a spider web connecting three neighboring flowers.

Spider

Spider

Hoping for a meal to come along, a spider waited beneath one of the three flowers connected by its web. While I watched, both a sweat bee and honey bee got stuck in the web. They flailed frantically before managing to escape.

Dead Honey Bee

Dead Honey Bee

Another honey bee appeared to be the victim of a different predator. The insect at the top of the photo may be an assassin bug. If it is, it probably killed the honey bee. The half dozen flies on the bee’s corpse are probably flesh flies. The flies are difficult to see in this small photo. In fact, I didn’t notice them myself until I looked at full-sized version of the photo on my computer screen.

Dead Honey Bee Detail

Dead Honey Bee Detail

In the detail I count four flies on the left side of the bee, one and possibly another on the right side, and one that’s difficult to pick out in the middle. To find the flies, it helps to look for their prominent brick-red eyes.

Bee Fly

Bee Fly

Flies on the dead bee weren’t the only flies in the coneflower patch. Bee flies are regular visitors. Bee flies look and behave much like bees, but, like other flies, they have only a single set of wings. Bee flies tend to hold their wings out while resting.

Green Bottle Fly

Green Bottle Fly

On one occasion, a green bottle fly perched on a down-hanging coneflower petal. Bottle flies are attracted to decaying flesh, decomposing organic matter, and foul-smelling plants. I imagine this fly was a casual visitor not specifically attracted to the coneflowers. While I was watching, it perched on the petal grooming itself and didn’t go near any of the flower heads that attracted the bees. The petal was probably just a convenient place to land.

Thread-waisted Wasp

Thread-waisted Wasp

One day a thread-waisted wasp came along and suspended itself from a coneflower leaf just long enough to have its picture taken. I imagine it was a casual visitor as well. Thread-wasted wasps seem to be more attracted to mint plants flowering nearby than they are to the coneflowers.

Peck's Skipper

Peck’s Skipper

Occasionally, Butterflies take apparently random routes among the flowers in our yard. They seem to have difficulty figuring our where to land. When they do land, butterflies usually don’t stay long. This Peck’s skipper was an exception. It landed on a nearby coneflower. I managed to get several photographs before it flew away.

I’ve traveled thousands of miles to photograph wildlife. I’m delighted to have found such a rich source of new things to photograph just a few steps from our backdoor.


Copyright © 2011 Robert N. Stocker. All rights are reserved. Please contact us for additional information.

If you enjoyed this posting you may want to visit our small, but growing gallery of insect photos. We aren’t entomologists. Please contact us if you come across anything we have misidentified.

Too Big to Swallow

 

On March 29 I spent the afternoon photographing birds from the boardwalks at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center in Texas. As the light was waning, I noticed a Great Blue Heron standing beneath one of the boardwalks.

Great Blue Heron Standing Beneath a Boardwalk

Great Blue Heron Standing Beneath a Boardwalk

It didn’t seem to be fishing, but I suppose herons rarely ignore a nearby fish. This one certainly didn’t. Fifteen seconds later it plunged into the water…

Great Blue Heron Catching a Fish

Great Blue Heron Plunging After a Fish

and came up with an astonishingly large fish!

Great Blue Heron with a Fish

Great Blue Heron with a Fish

I’m often amazed by some of the things that birds can swallow, but this fish seemed too big for even the most determined heron. Apparently the heron thought so too. The heron carried the fish away from the water…

Great Blue Heron Carrying a Fish

Great Blue Heron Carrying a Fish

and dropped it.

When I left the Birding and Nature Center several minutes later, I walked across the boardwalk under which the heron had been standing. The fish lay dying on the mudflat below.

Early the next morning I returned to the spot where the heron had dropped the fish. The fish was gone. I had expected to see fresh seagull tracks, and was surprised to find these tracks instead.

Tracks in the Mud

Tracks in the Mud

Later in the morning I noticed a fish head lying on the mud about twenty meters from the spot where the heron had dropped the fish.


Copyright © 2011 Robert N. Stocker. All rights are reserved. Please contact us for additional information.

Diamondback Water Snakes

Recently, I nearly missed some interesting wildlife behavior that was happening right in front of me.

On an overcast morning in late March 2011, I took a number of unremarkable photographs of distant subjects like Little Blue Herons, Neotropic Cormorants, Great Egrets, Least Grebes and Snowy Egrets from the edge of a pond in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, Texas. Only after having been at the spot for nearly half an hour did I notice a Diamondback Water Snake stretched out on a log right in front of me.

Diamondback Water Snake

Diamondback Water Snake

Almost immediately, I noticed a second snake stretched out on an even closer log. A third snake then emerged from the water near the second snake’s head…

Diamondback Water Snakes

Male Diamondback Water Snake Beginning to Crawl Down a Female’s Back

and began to crawl down the second snake’s back…

Diamondback Water Snakes

Male Diamondback Water Snake Crawling Down a Female’s Back

until it came to the end of the log.

Diamondback Water Snakes

Male Diamondback Water Snake Stretched Out Along a Female’s Back

Diamondback Water Snakes are nonvenomous snakes that give live birth from fertilized eggs retained in females’ bodies. Females are noticeably larger than males. Based on size, the first two snakes were females, and the third was a male.

After a few minutes of indecision, the male snake slipped off into the water, turned around and crawled up the back of the female in the opposite direction.

Diamondback Water Snakes

Male Diamondback Water Snake on the Back of a Female

Once the male snake was stretched across the back of the female, neither snake moved appreciably for twenty minutes or more.

By this time, a crowd had gathered. Some people seemed more interested in chatting with each other than observing nature. Feeling frustrated with the crowd and thinking that the best of the show was over, I left.

I returned to the site after half an hour. The crowd had moved on, but the snakes were still there.

Diamondback Water Snakes

Male Diamondback Water Snake Coiled on Top of a Female

A larger version of this photo is currently displayed in the snakes gallery on StockerPhotos.com.


Copyright © 2011 Robert N. Stocker. All rights are reserved. Please contact us for additional information.