Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Looking For Milkweed? Don't Forget To Look In Your Own Yard

Late in the afternoon, I checked my outdoor pavillion one last time.  I noticed that one of the caterpillars was dead on the dirt in the pot of its host plant.  As I picked it up and examined it, I noticed evidence that yes, once again, the Tachinid fly larvae had struck again.  I was feeling a bit blue, because a good number of my caterpillars were not making it to adulthood, yet a lot of my Milkweed was being consumed.

Before I continue with my story, let me give you a little background information.  My family and I just purchased a house this year.  It was built in 1955, and we did a little remodeling before we moved in.  The lady that previously owned it lived in it from the day it was built until the day she died.  The house and yard had been unkept for 1-2 years by the time we purchased it.  I'm still trying to get the grounds under control, and we're getting close.  I'm watching very close to see what plants come up this year.  That will give me some kind of idea as to what the previous owner did to beautify the yard, and I'll start to make some choices from there.  I'm sure our new dog will no doubt influence my decisions too.  In fact, she already has.  *smile*

Anyway, as I was walking through my yard, thinking about my normal shortage of Milkweed, I noticed a plant next to my garden hose.  I would have passed it by, but I noticed two Milkweed bugs on it.  Milkweed bugs are orange and black insects that feed exclusively on Milkweed plants.  (See photo below).  If you see them on a plant, you've no doubt just found a Milkweed plant.  Although they won't hurt your Monarch caterpillars, they do consume their host plant, and for that reason, they are in competition with the Monarchs.  For that reason, I did a double take.  All of a sudden, something popped into my brain.  If those are Milkweed bugs, they would only be on Milkweed plants.  Could it be that I have wild Milkweed plants growing on my recently purchased property?  Well, I told my wife there is one easy way to find out.  I pinched off one of the leaves of the mystery plant, and you guessed it, a white milky fluid leaked out!  It indeed appears to be Milkweed.  However, it is definitely not Tropical Milkweed, one of the most commonly known Milkweed species.  By its appearance, if I had to take a guess, I'd say it looks like Sand Milkweed.  It does have flower buds under its leaves, so hopefully it will be blooming soon.  At that point, I should know exactly which species of Milkweed it is. 

One thing is for sure, if you're running low on Milkweed, it never hurts to look around your local area, including your own back yard.  You might be surprised what you will find there.

(Unknown species of Milkweed growing wild in my back yard!)

(Leaf of the wild Milkweed plant growing in my back yard.)

(Wild Milkweed plant growing in my back yard with Milkweed bug on it.)

(Milkweed Bug)

A few more caterpillars are getting ready to pupate.  I'll see what we got in the morning and let you know.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

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