Sunday, September 9, 2012

Monarchs pay royal visit

Sonya took these photos in August and early September. We had been remarking the continual presence of butterflies on a couple of butterfly bushes in front of our house in Quincy throughout her visit. Two, three, four, five at the same time, on the same bush. They mostly congregated on a rather scrawny shrub in front of the house, planted in partial shade. Some of the leaves show bite holes, but its purple blooms are big and lush, while they last. We have two taller bushes with bi-colored leaves, they have a better appearance, but their flowers are smaller. The butterflies found these too, but less often and in smaller numbers. Conclusion: butterflies like big blooms.
A spot of insect-on-insect drama broke out after we became aware that one of the butterflies would simply linger on the blossom no matter how close we came. Usually they sense your approach, fly up, and circle around before landing on a bloom again, generally a different one. This orange-flecked, black-rimmed, white-dotted creature simply hung on the flower while we snapped photo after photo. Sonya figured this out and got up close and, and in a Lepidoptera fashion, personal for the best shots.
It looked like a monarch to me, but I’m no expert.
The next day, however, when a similar creature perched on the same blossom, another insect appeared to be bothering it. Again we got very close and had to separate the image of twig-like creature from his camouflage: a praying mantis. A very large praying mantis. I am told they bite the heads off their prey.
I ordered the mantis to go find some mosquitoes, and removed the butterfly to a proper burial place in some lower foliage. But the praying mantis continued to lurk until my wife and daughter staged an intervention, removing it in some receptacle (I didn’t see this; possibly actually working) and releasing it in a wild area at the end of the block.
Two evenings later a very large praying mantis – the same one? a mate? – planted his six legs on the outside of the picture window well after dark and looked in at the lights and the people inside. Was she delivering a message? You think it’s that easy to get rid of me? Go find your mate, I thought, and bite his head off.
I should have gotten a picture of this mysterious visitor, nose pressed against the glass.
The butterflies continued to find their way to our bushes. I have another in the backyard, a semi-shade area, and that one drew some traffic too.
We’ve had all these bushes for a number of years. They’ve drawn visitors in the past, but nothing like this year's level of attention. I have no idea if there’s any reason for the difference. I hope we’ve made it onto some kind of migrating monarch butterfly list of hotspots and roadside attractions, and look forward to seeing them, well their species-mates, again next summer.
And I promise to keep a sharp eye out for praying mantises.