A quick look at fascinating, if not friendly, beetles on a common native aster.
Milkweed is a wonderful, and essential, host for the Monarch butterfly. However, these pictures beautifully illustrate the complexities of the food web with a milkweed at it’s heart.
We might be very familiar with the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas), a European native common in disturbed areas, or even the yellow Californian poppy (Escholzia californica), native to the USA. But we might not be so quick to recognize the prickly body of the White Prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora). This Texas native is a survivor, preferring to grow in disturbed and nutrient poor conditions. It can be seen on the roadside in many southern states and has a rose-pink variant in Southern Texas. An annual or biennial, it has delicate paper white flowers beloved by bees and butterflies but shunned by deer and cows. Probably because it is very prickly and toxic. It produces copius quantities of seeds and would possibly be a good candidate for restoration in very disturbed sites where people would not necessarily pass to close by. Given it’s deep root system I wonder if it would also be a candidate for phytoremediation?
It was a spring for caterpillars, butterflies and moths in Texas. But I was still surprised when I was walking to my car in May and saw clumps of caterpillars on the evergreen sumac in the parking lot. Much to the joy of colleagues and students we watched the caterpillars devouring great sections of leaves. What made it even more interesting was that while some of the caterpillars stayed in a tight group others had wondered off by themselves a little and would arch their backs if you peered too closely.
Curious, I contacted the LBJ Wildflower center and they put me in touch with a volunteer who was an expert in these matters. Several emails later the caterpillar was identified as Datana perspicua or spotted Datana. It turns out that they are the only species that uses Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) as a host plant and then they go underground before emerging again as an adult!