By Boak Wiesner
The first day this year when I sense in the air that fall may finally be upon us finds me out on the prairie, where I’m surrounded, bathed by the yellow-gold light of many kinds of “sun” flowers. If there’s a better example of Darwin’s “endless forms most beautiful”, I cannot think of one.
Oh, look – it’s a Monarch! This one will be heading off to Mexico within the week, probably. The Monarchs east of the Rockies head south to just a very few mountain valleys west of Mexico City in Michoacan province. Adios, amigo!
And what is the very next lepidopteran I see? One that lets me dwell on Batesian mimicry, even. Yes, it’s a Viceroy. It appears to have evolved the same coloration pattern as the larger Monarch, which is poisonous due to its caterpillar chowing down on milkweed, whose “juice” is loaded with noxious alkaloids, as well as some cool cardiac glycosides. Makes my heart go “boom” just thinking about ‘em. (Which is the effect of that chemical.)
Examining a Milkweed for signs of Monarch caterpillars or pupae, I find a gathering of Milkweed Bugs. These are the second-to-last stage of their life cycle. They do not go through complete metamorphosis as do Monarchs, but instead hatch out into a form resembling a small adult and then go through several stages, called instars.
A cluster of Black-eyed Susans add their golden glow to the morning air. Each of the petals is actually its own little floret, and together they add up to something beautiful. Flowers like this are in the Family Compositae.