First, while I was counting Sachems and other small Skipper butterflies around some zinnias, I spotted a desparate fluttering below one pink flower. As I looked closer I saw a very tattered Monarch butterfly struggling in the clutches of a praying mantis. As if it wasn't enough to be caught and know you were going to become somebody else's lunch, it looked like the mantis was eating the Monarch still alive! I watched in combined fascination & horror for a few minutes, during which time the butterfly never stopped struggling and fighting for its life. It was still fluttering wildly when I walked away.
|Amazing to watch the battle between hunger and desperate survival.|
I next headed down to our butterfly garden. I anticipated looking for more Monarchs in a happier state, maybe spotting some fat larva munching on succulent milkweed. But then I spotted a faded Tiger Swallowtail struggling on the ground. I leaned down for a closer look and saw that it was battling for its life! The struggle was so vicious I couldn't make out the aggressor very clearly right then, so I took photos to get a better look later. The butterfly was clearly soon to be a goner so I picked it up to hold it for better photos and observation. If that makes me a horrible monster, so be it-- for science! :-)
|This shot of the hornet biting into the butterfly is so creepy and fascinating to me.|
When I looked at the photos back at my office I saw a Bald-faced Hornet was attacking the butterfly. I had no idea they were even predators let alone would attack a butterfly. I looked for more life history information and found that yes indeed, they do sometimes kill and eat other insects in addition to also eating nectar & pollen, and serving as beneficial predators. Wow.
|Yes, I'm heartless sometimes. You have to be, to study nature!|
It's great finding new things to see and learn no matter how many times I explore the same bit of territory. I do feel somewhat sad for the butterflies but hope their predators continue to thrive. That's what keeps the balance in the ecosystem.
|I spotted the same praying mantis on my way back, now sated and cleaning butterfly gore off its forelegs.|
- Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, Maryland