Photo of the Week – September 29, 2017

As the growing season comes to an end and most wildflowers wind up their blooming period, insects that feed on nectar and pollen have to work a lot harder to find food.  The few remaining plants with active flowers suddenly become really popular.  In this part of Nebraska, those last remaining wildflowers include species like tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), heath aster (Aster ericoides), and New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), among others.  The other day, I spotted a lone New England aster plant being mobbed by hungry insects.  Here are some photos…


Over the five minutes or more that I watched the horde of insects on this plant, I saw the same individual blossoms get worked over multiple times by multiple insects.  After all that activity, I can’t imagine any of those insects were really getting much of anything out of those flowers, but they were certainly trying…

Painted lady butterflies are still pretty abundant, but not nearly as abundant as they were a year ago.

How many insects can you find on the photo below?  I can find four painted lady butterflies, a skipper butterfly, three different bees, and a tree cricket.  Not pictured are a couple of grasshoppers and a few other bees that were just below the field of view.

How many insects can you see?  Click on the photo to see a larger version of the image.

I assume the remaining painted lady butterflies will migrate soon, but most of the other pollen and nectar-eating insects around here don’t have anywhere to go.  Some will simply die with the flowering season, but others will spend the winter in a state of dormancy and re-emerge in the spring.  I sometimes use the analogy of watering holes in Africa when talking about flowers and pollinators.  In this case, the analogy seems particularly apt as the last “watering holes” are drying up and the animals relying on them are highly concentrated.  I was surprised not to see any “crocodiles” (e.g., crab spiders) at this particular watering hole, taking advantage of an increasingly desperate prey base.

I appreciate living in a temperate zone where I can enjoy a nice variety of seasons through the year, but I’ll certainly miss seeing (and photographing) flowers and insects over the winter.  It’s hard to focus on indoor work these days, knowing that my opportunities to see those flowers and insects this season are dwindling fast…

6 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – September 29, 2017

  1. Eric Meola September 29, 2017 / 8:52 am

    I love the opening shot, Chris! That sure is a lot of action for one plant!

  2. Ernest Ochsner September 29, 2017 / 11:07 am

    Chris, the first shot is just magnificent! That’s called being prepared and at the right place at the right moment. I really do enjoy your photos and sense of humor in the blog. Thanks, Ernie

  3. Petes Home Email September 29, 2017 / 11:23 am

    Hi, Chris!

    I follow your blog and thought you might have an opinion about an unusual variant painted lady butterfly that has been hanging around a Lincoln residence (Sue Dawson) for more than a week. It is a beauty, but I can find no reference for such a ‘morph’ for this species…. Care to offer an opinion?

    Pete Smith 402-580-8138

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Chris Helzer September 29, 2017 / 11:28 am

      My guess is that you’re seeing a bordered patch butterfly (Chlosyne lacinia) which is a species from much further south of us that has come north this fall for some reason. It’s in my yard too, hanging around with the painted ladies, and is about the same size but a different look. See if it matches what you’re seeing…

  4. Karla Rizzo October 2, 2017 / 11:30 am

    Chris, I’ve been enjoying your blog/photography for a year now. What a great thing you are doing, sharing with us your exploration and appreciation of prairie, its plants and creatures. To answer one of your questions in this post, looking at the third image I think I spy five painted lady butterflies among the bees, etc. Since August we had clouds/crowds/hoards (not sure of the word to use) of Vanessa cardui nectaring in our yard this year on the New England asters up to this past Sunday. The weather has turned cooler (today rainy) here in Omaha and hopefully the butterflies are getting the hint to move south, as the asters are quickly progressing to seed.


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