Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Believe it or not, the Coreopsis, aka calliopsis and tickseed, is a member of the Daisy family, Asteraceae. Its pretty yellow flower sometimes has red rays that emanate from the center. Coreopsis are used as food plants by the caterpillars of some butterflies. 

Coreopsis was designated the state wildflower of Florida.

Coreopsis in Kansas

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why is this dragonfly called the "widow skimmer"?

widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), Kansas

Why is this dragonfly called the "widow skimmer"?

The widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is found throughout the United States and right here in Wichita, Kansas around ponds and marshy areas.

I have looked online for explanations of its name, widow skimmer, but, pretty much, drawn a blank.

So, here goes. The Latin name is Libellula luctuosa, which translates as "water-level" and "mournful". In English, we transpose the words and come up with mournful water skimmer. Okay, the water skimmer makes sense for these insects that love to hover over marshes and lakes and grab other insects, but what about "widow"?

Here is my guess. Look at the two pairs of black stripes or bands on the wings. Long before Carl Linenaeus and modern taxonomy, women in mourning and widows wore black clothing in grief after the death of a loved one, and her grieving orphans wore a makeshift black armband.

perching widow skimmer

Makes sense, but it is only a guess.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Milkweed Bug

Milkweed Bug

The Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, is orange to orange-red and black in color, making our bug look somewhat like an escaped prison inmate.

Milkweed Bug, Sedgwick County, Kansas

Milkweed Bugs feed on the Milkweed plant. This helps to make these insects safe from predators, just like the Monarch butterfly whose larvae feed on Milkweed, as the sap in the Milkweed latex contains cardiac glycosides, a type of cardenolide, which is a heart-stopping steroid.

The Milkweed Bug is a true-bug, meaning they feed not with a mouth but with their long proboscis, which pierces and sucks on the seed pods, leaves, and stems of milkweed.

The sex of the insect can be determined by examining the abdomen. On the male, counting down from the thorax on the ventral side (abdomen), the fourth abdominal segment bears a black band, and on the female there are two identifiable black spots.

Abdomen of Milkweed Bug, female on the bottom has proboscis retracted

Females lay eggs ("oviposit" if you want the fancy zoological term), about 30 eggs a day or 2000 in a lifetime of approximately a month, depositing the eggs between the pods of the Milkweed plant.  In about four days (as the temperature warms to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) the nymphs hatch. The young nymphs resemble adults, but do not have wings or reproductive organs. Nymphs grow by stages called instars, each stage lasting approximately a week.

Females mate 5 to 12 days after the last molt for females and males two to three days. Copulation may last up to 10 hours.

Mating Milkweed Bugs on Milkweed