It suits them to a "T."
And the "T" is for Tithonia.
Many species of butterflies frequent our Tithonia, also known as Mexican sunflower. Like its name implies, it's a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae.
On any given Sunday--not to mention the other days of the week--the butterflies descend on the Mexican sunflower for a quick burst of nectar. Some stay longer than others, often depending on whether the territorial male sunflower bees (Melissodes and Svastra) are engaging in target practice.
Meet the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae).
Meet the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon).
Meet the Monarch (Danaus plexippus).
Meet the skipper (family Hesperiidae).
The Tithonia belongs in every bee garden!
For more information about butterflies in California's central valley, be sure to check out the butterfly website of Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis.
If you have Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia) in your garden, you can expect a diversity of insects--and not just honey bees.
Lately we've been photographing all the insects that visit the Tithonia in our bee garden.
They include butterflies (including monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, skippers and cabbage whites) bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii and Bombus fervides, formerly known as Bombus californicus), sweat bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, praying mantids, honey bees, carpenter bees, and yes, flies (green bottle fly).
The Mexican sunflower, an annual in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, originates from Mexico and Central America. What's good about the Tithonia--besides its sizzling color and its ability to attract a diversity of insects--is that it's drought-tolerant. That's especially important as we thirsty Californians endure our worst-ever drought.
We grew our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) from seed, and it should bloom all summer. Already it's reaching NBA basketball-stature--topping seven feet in height.
We may have to set up a orchard ladder in our bee garden on our next photo shoot!
In the entomological world, we call that a "two-fer."
Two insects in the same photo.
Sunday morning we spotted a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus) on an artichoke leaf. It was warming its flight muscles, maybe to flutter over to the lavender for a sip of nectar.
Next to it--we almost missed it--was a damselfly, apparently doing the same thing. Or maybe it was waiting for an aphid or a gnat or ant to come along. They eat small, soft-bodied insects.
The skipper: a member of the family Hesperiidae, order Lepidoptera.
The damselfly: a member of the suborder Zygoptera, order Odonata.
Two entirely different orders, but both belonging to the class Insecta.
And sharing an artichoke leaf on a Sunday morning.