Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The hunters, the farmers, and a pair of gadabouts.

A pair of big yellow butterflies has been flitting about the lawn, and I've had the camera close at hand, hoping to catch them at rest. No such luck. I haven't seen them stop yet.

They passed my window again, low down. I grabbed the camera and dashed out. The butterflies flew over the treetops and away. Again.

I was standing there, squinting into the sun, hoping they would come back, when I noticed that it appeared to be raining under a young linden in front of me. A steady rainfall of small drops, but only underneath the tree. I went to investigate. The entire tree is coated in a glistening, sticky fluid; so is the grass underneath.

Each leaf sheltered a number of insects on its sticky underside.


Ants ran up and down the trunk and over the leaves. Aphids produce a sweet "honey" that ants prize highly. Some species maintain an aphid farm, and milk their stock regularly, by stroking their backs with their antennae. This doesn't seem necessary on our linden; there's enough honey dripping off the tree to feed any number of ants.

Young aphid, wingless and almost colourless, except for stripes on the antennae.

Older aphid, with dotted abdomen.

Some of the aphids are winged. These may eventually fly to a new tree.

The wings have a dark border and cloudy spots.

Young winged aphid, with the shell of its recent molt.

The aphids won't harm the tree, so I am told. And their numbers will soon be kept in check. I found a 13-spot ladybug on one leaf; she flew away when I tried to photograph her. (It's difficult when your fingers keep sticking to the leaves.) But she has left plenty of progeny:

Family of ladybug eggs and newly hatched larvae. At first, they eat the leftover egg casings, but in a day or two, they'll be hunting for aphids.

These are still very small. They will go through 5 or more molts before they pupate; by then they will be longer than their parent.

So, I feed and water the linden tree, the linden tree feeds the aphids, the aphids feed the ants and the ladybugs, and the ants and ladybugs feed the birds. I wonder; will the honeyed tree attract and slow down the butterflies? I'll keep my eye on it.


  1. The whole system of ants taking care of aphids, etc., is just so amazing to me! Great pictures! I hope you are able to catch a picture of the butterflies. :-)


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