More than Monarchs

Everyone loves Monarch butterflies! They’re pretty nice but I prefer native Yellow Admirals personally. They have the advantage that their offspring eat Nettles too.

Anyway, Monarchs are popular around the world and I got some great pics of them and their young on a Milkweed of some sort. The striped caterpillars having made short work of any recognisable features.

I reckon that Yellow Admirals are prettier.
I wish the stripy caterpillars would eat the Aphids too.
I wish the stripy Monarch caterpillars would eat the Aphids too.

Monarchs love Milkweed, that’s well known but, far more interesting (to me, at least) is what else is going on in the pictures.

Tiny, yellow Milkweed (aka ) Oleander Aphids (Aphis nerii) often  infest the same plants that the Monarch larvae munch on. These little pests in turn, do something really interesting and beneficial to our gardens.

Milkweed Aphids.
Milkweed Aphids.

Well, not the Aphids themselves, but their predators. The Aphids attract tiny parasitoid wasps. Depending on the species, these wasps lay their eggs in either the Aphids or their eggs. The babies use their victims as food as they go through their early stages of growth.

Importantly for we gardeners, the wasps and other critters that are looking for a good feed of Oleander Aphid also prey on other garden pests.

I was put onto this little example of  natural pest control by Andrew at Joe’s Connected Garden. He has a patch of Milkweed that is the year-round host to both pests and predators. Being a permanent path and not ‘weeded’, it allows all of the creatures involved to overwinter their eggs and to be ready early in Spring to repeat their life cycles.

Andrew also has a patch in his front garden that has grown into a patch of Roses. If you look carefully, the Milkweed are infested with several kinds of Aphids and the Roses have none. I could not find a single one in my short search!

Far from being home to a pretty Butterfly, this Milkweed is home to a whole ecosystem! Imagine what else is going on there. There are critters that live off of the secretions of the Aphids, moulds and mildews that love those sugary exudates. While taking the pics you see today, a bird was making repeated swoops over the plant. I can’t see what it is after but it seems to be feeding too. Hoverflies also abound around this plant, their predatory larvae making a feast of Aphids.

A hoverfly taking a break.
A hoverfly taking a break.

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