Swallowtail Caterpillar in the Native Plant Gardens

Many of the Oakland Township parks have landscaping beds with native plants. Look for the native plant beds at Bear Creek Nature Park, Marsh View Park, along the Paint Creek Trail at Gunn Road, and in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Why native plants? The short answer is that these plants provide food and habitat for wildlife including pollinators like butterflies and bees. We also know that since these plants are native to the area, they won’t become problem invasive plants if they escape from the gardens. And native plants are beautiful! You can learn more about native plants and find out where to buy them at the Michigan Native Plant Producers Association website.

This morning I found this swallowtail caterpillar in the native plant beds at Marsh View Park. It was crawling on a little bluestem plant. I’m not sure what species of swallowtail it is, but the caterpillar looks most similar to the images of black swallowtail or anise swallowtail caterpillars I found at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. I’m curious to learn the species, so let me know if you identify it!

A swallowtail caterpillar I found in the native plant beds in the parking lot at Marsh View Park this morning.

A swallowtail caterpillar I found in the native plant beds in the parking lot at Marsh View Park this morning.

A wider view of the native plant bed in the Marsh View parking lot. This bed has an attractive native bunchgrass, little bluestem. Can you find the caterpillar?

A wider view of the native plant bed in the Marsh View parking lot. This bed has an attractive native bunchgrass, little bluestem. Can you find the caterpillar?

Here is a picture from the native plant bed at the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrichium sp.) in the native plant beds in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrichium sp.) in the native plant beds in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill. It flowered in May and June this year.

If you are a gardener, or would like to learn more about native plants, you can help with upkeep of our native plant beds. You would be trained to recognize the native plants. You would also get to help us design and continue to develop the native plant landscaping. Contact me (Ben VanderWeide)  if you’d like to learn more!

Cheerful Checkerspots, Munching Monarchs, and Delicate Damselflies

Summer flowers are emerging with gusto, and chances are if you watch a flower for a few minutes you’ll see a butterfly, bee, or other pollinator stop by for a quick snack of nectar or pollen. When they stop, these insects will get pollen on their bodies, either intentionally or not, and spread it to the next flower. We depend on pollinators for many of the foods we enjoy every day, including the strawberries you might be picking this weekend.

One of the pollinators I found this week was this Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) in a sedge meadow at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie. It was probably resting before finding its next meal, maybe the mountain mint I found flowering nearby!

This Baltimore Checkerspot is chilling on the leaf of a New England aster at Paint Creek Heritage Area - Wet Prairie.

This Baltimore Checkerspot is chilling on the leaf of a New England aster at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie.

On a butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) also at Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie we found a monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus). Loss of breeding ground is one factor contributing to the recent decline of monarchs throughout their range, so these milkweeds provide critical habitat for these beautiful butterflies in their breeding grounds.

This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the orange-flowered butterfly milkweed. As the larva feeds on the milkweed, it gets toxic chemicals that it uses to protect itself from most predators.

This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the orange-flowered butterfly milkweed. As the larva feeds on the milkweed, it gets toxic chemicals that it uses to protect itself from most predators.

Finally, after finding these plant-feeding butterflies, I stumbled upon a fierce, dark-winged predator. Like most damselflies, the ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) feeds on gnats, aphids, and other flies. This individual was very cooperative during the photo session, calmly letting me snap a few close-up photos.

This ebony jewelwing uses the hairs on its legs to catch flies for its next meal.

This ebony jewelwing uses the hairs on its legs to catch flies for its next meal. Click on the pictures to check out the hairs!

What insects have you seen in the parks? Leave a comment below to let us know!