Bees and Butterflies


Our neighbors behind us are turning their backyard into a farm. They have a garden. They have chickens. They have fruit trees. This year, they added honey bees.

We, on the other hand, have always had a hummingbird garden that attracts all sorts of pollinators, including bees. One of the plants that planted itself and we have encouraged is native milkweed.

bees on milkwee (2)

Bees love it. They buzz around the milk weed constantly.

bees on milkwee (1)

But we noticed a problem lately — some of the honey bees are getting caught in the milkweed flowers.

bee caught in mikweed closeup

Honeybees are non-native — they are from Europe and Asia. Milkweed, on the other hand, is native to North America.

Bee caught in milkweed

Close up of honeybee foot (tarsi) caught in milkweed polonium.

The bees’ claw-like feet get caught in a structure called a polonium. This is actually exactly what is supposed to happen with the polonium. The polonium is full of pollen, and the insect is supposed to catch it on its feet, pull it free and take it to the next milkweed. The “Mydas” Touch/Eye on Nature

Unfortunately for the honeybees, they aren’t strong enough to pull free. If they are well and truly caught, they are doomed (we free the ones we find in our garden).

So why don’t we pull up the milkweed? Because it is of critical importance to endangered Monarch butterflies. Milkweeds are the only plant that Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.Milkweed is slightly toxic to a lot of animals, but not to Monarchs. The Monarch caterpillars hatch out, eat Monarch leaves and become slightly toxic themselves.Monarch Butterfly Habitat/US Forest Service

Bees are in trouble from the baffling Colony collapse disorder, but Monarchs are threatened with extinction, in part due to the loss of milkweeds.

monarch on milkweed (9) -1

Monarch on our backyard milkweed.

Sometimes, you have to make choices on what you help out.

About coloradogeography

Amy Law is a second-generation Coloradoan with a passion for her native state. This translated into a Master’s degree in Natural Resources from Colorado State University, and continues as a lifelong fascination with how people and nature interact. From family vacations in the station wagon to travel for work, she's covered the state, and everywhere she goes, she finds new things to see and ideas to explore.
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One Response to Bees and Butterflies

  1. Laurie Trainer says:

    Very interesting. I always learn something new from your posts.

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