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It’s all about energy this morning.  I stepped outside to recharge my batteries and found painted lady butterflies everywhere. This time to year the painted ladies (Vanessa cardui) are migrating south, with rest stops in places like Phoenix where they can bask in the sun and drink lot’s of nectar from the pretty flowers everyone plants.

It’s in the low 50’s this morning, so the first butterflies I saw were basking on a wall with their wings directed to catch the sun. They are like mini-solar panels.

painted lady

Why are they basking? Insects bask in the sun to warm the flights muscles prior to flying.

I knew where there were some lantana plants in the sun, so I went to see what was going on there.

painted lady

More painted lady butterflies basking and drinking nectar. They weren’t cooperative at first, but after sitting still on a cold sidewalk for a few minutes, I was able to get a few good shots.

painted lady

painted lady

painted lady

Here's one basking on a Texas sage.

painted lady

Seeing all these beautiful butterflies was a real charge for me. I hope other people notice them too.

If you are interested in learning more, or if you see painted ladies migrating and you'd like to participate in a study, check out the 2008 Vanessa Migration Project. Updated 2019:  The study is now at Iowa State

As promised, we were able to use the microscope camera unit over the weekend. Here is a photo of a very tiny wasp, in the chalcid group.

chalcid wasp

This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful rainbow colors in the wings and the metallic blue on the abdomen. I'm afraid the camera was a bit dusty.

Wasps of the chalcid superfamily are mostly parasites, which means they lay their eggs in other insects. They are considered to be beneficial insects when their offspring consume pest insects. You probably wouldn't normally see these wasps because they are so very small, sometime only a millimeter or two in length.

There is an amazing world of tiny creatures visible only under a microscope. This week we have been reading the book "Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek: First to See Microscopic Life" by Lisa Yount. Mr. Leeuwenhoek was not the first person to make a microscope, as sometimes claimed, but he did perfect it and was the first to use a microscope to examine a wide variety of things.

Imagine what it must have been like to be the first person to closely study microscopic life forms as Leeuwenhoek did. He discovered bacteria, protozoa, insects, and even red blood cells. It would have been almost like finding a new planet, sometimes literally right under your nose. No wonder some people had trouble believing him when he told of his discoveries, they were just so fantastic.

If you get a chance, take a look at some insects under a hand lens, magnifier or microscope. You'll be astonished the details you will see.

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Week before last we must have had a spike in humidity levels because all the Texas sage bushes in the neighborhood started flowering. They were so pretty, I thought I'd add a plant of the week this week.

texas sage

Also called purple sage, or Texas silverleaf, the scientific name of this Texas native plant is Leucophyllum frutescens.  They appear gray because their leaves are densely covered with silvery hairs. The flowers may be white, pink, lavender, purple, or blue, depending on the variety. Texas sages characteristically bloom after a rain, or at least a local rise in humidity levels. This interesting trait gives them the common name of “Texas barometer bush.”

texas sage

Check out the white and contrasting spots in the throat of the flower.

Texas sage and other related species are widely planted as water-conserving ornamentals in the southwestern United States. They can get quite big if watered occasionally and allowed to spread to their natural form.

texas sage

It isn’t uncommon to see them pruned as well. Pruning does cut down on the number of flowers, which are at the stem tips.

texas sage

If you are interested in butterfly gardening, you might want to consider planting some of these shrubs. It turns out that they are also hosts for caterpillars, (although I’ve never seen any on ours.) Further south in Arizona there have been reports of caterpillars of the Theona Checkerspot (Chlosyne theona) using the sage as a food plant.

Caterpillars of an attention-grabbing moth called the Calleta silkmoth (Eupackardia calleta) also feed on Texas sage.  If you live in an area where they are found, you should look for them. Check the map at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website linked to the name of the moth.