Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Tom Hennessy send some insect photos a while back, and I misplaced them. Fortunately, he re-sent them, and here they are. His notes are indented; note that all these insects are all brightly colored and quite visible—likely examples of aposematic (“warning“) coloration because the sap of the milkweed contains toxic compounds, probably rendering the insects distasteful to predators. That’s the reason why monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), which also feed on milkweeds, are bright orange and black.

I have a series of photographs that you may be interested in.  The first four were taken this past summer at Lewis Ginter Botanic Garden in Richmond, VA.  First, is the flower of a common milkweed plant (Asclepias syriaca) and the second is the large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on the flowers.  As I looked closer on one of the plants, I also saw an infestation of tiny Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii), shown in the third and fourth photos.
Then in mid-October, I visited a large meadow in Shenandoah National Park.  There were hundreds of milkweed plants and many were burst open to spread their seeds.  The next couple of photos are of the pods and seeds.  In addition, there were numerous milkweed bugs on the pods, both adults and juveniles.


  1. rickflick
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Milkweeds are absolutely beautiful plants. The pure white silk is meant to be touched. Their insect parasites are amazing too, and resemble the seeds in color and shape.

    • darrelle
      Posted December 1, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      In the first milkweed photo after the aphids you can see a bug hanging out with the seeds.

  2. Debra Coplan
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Just gorgeous photographs….Thank you.
    It’s just a whole world I never get to see any other way–

  3. Christopher
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Wonderful pictures. I love that you’ve made the commonplace appear so extraordinary. It’s a great reminder that beauty in nature isn’t just big charismatic megafauna; we just need to take the time to look around to find some pretty fantastic things right under our noses.

  4. Posted December 1, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Very nice close-up/macro work! 🙂

  5. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Tom, these are first rate pictures! I really like them.
    One thing I notice is that you are really good at creating a softly diffused light, and that is one thing I need to work on.

    • Posted December 1, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Mark, Thank you. I like to shoot macro on bright overcast days, or in the shade to avoid harsh shadows. I also tend to use shallow depth of field to avoid busy backgrounds. If I shoot indoors I use a softbox.

  6. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Fantastic pictures!

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Aphids really entertain me. In your picture of crowded aphids, you can see one big one giving live birth to a baby. She is just below the middle.
    And that brings up a question that I had been pondering while watching a lot of aphids. Why do they almost always face the same way? Clearly they can be packed together more tightly, but in the other picture they are pretty sparse and yet there they are, all pointing the same way.
    So I wonder whether they wind up doing this simply because they are born pointing in the same direction as their mother, as we see in the other picture, and aphids just don’t want to turn around.

    • Posted December 1, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Found the mama. JAC should have made it a “Spot the…” posting. I would still be looking.

    • Posted December 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I see it now, too. I would have thought they laid eggs.

  8. Damien McLeod
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I have loved milkweed since I was child, I remember when I was little I would take the open pods and shake them over my head to release the seeds and watch them float away.

  9. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Milkweed bugs are really very beautiful. For such common insects, we easily overlook that.

  10. Heather Hastie
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I grow swan plants (a type of milkweed) for the butterflies. They attract aphids – a variety that looks like these except they’re green. When they’re in my garden I just want to kill them in case they spread to my roses, which they do sometimes. You make them beautiful!

  11. Mark R.
    Posted December 1, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Terrific work!

    Growing up in Nevada, the milkweed often had the red milkweed beetle. If handled they’d let off an unnerving high-pitched buzz and could administer a painful bite. I learned pretty quickly to leave them alone.

  12. Paul D.
    Posted December 2, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    No mention of monarch butterfly caterpillars on the milkweed? Sad.

    • Posted December 2, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Sadly no, but I did save seeds to plant at home to try and attract some monarchs.

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