Early June Update (A Little Late)

Our experiment on milkweed pollination needed to start quickly.  Since we needed fresh blooms to quantify both longhorned milkweed beetle and general pollination, our research group needed to get to our transects out in Blandy Experimental Farm and Arboretum before any milkweed blooms.  The common milkweed starts to bloom in early June, so everything had to be ready before then.  Along with graduate student Nicki, who is running this project, another undergraduate assistant, Angelica, and I rushed to prepare all the tools and equipment we would need.  We got the lab and the greenhouse cleaned and organized, including a painstaking power-wash of the greenhouse floor.  We collected all the supplies needed, including our flag markers, binoculars, and pollination bags to protect the flowers (made by me over summer break).  When everything was collected, we woke up bright and early to head up to Blandy.

The three-hour drive was easy and relatively relaxing, even though I was driving the ancient university van.  Arriving, we moved into our living accommodations and began to unpack everything.  And of course, as soon as we started, there were a series of storms that delayed our experiment slightly.  Luckily, the bad weather seemed to also delay the opening of the milkweed umbels, so we found ourselves still on schedule.  As the skies cleared up, we mapped out a few patches of the clonal milkweed across Blandy’s multiple fields.  We began our field work by placing the mesh bags that completely cover the umbels, on a few of the plants to prevent unwanted pollination.  That way, when the flowers opened up, we would be able to perform controlled observations and accurately count the number of pollinia being inserted and removed.  We also practiced setting up video observations by training our camcorder on a specific umbel to record pollinators as they come and go.

While I set up these observations, I was also taking note of the population of insects that flocked to the milkweed.  Each time I saw one I could not recognize, I would take a picture and search for their scientific and common name, adding that data to a growing list we created of pollinators that we have observed at Blandy.  The list includes a few bumblebee species, the famous monarch butterflies, and a few species of beetle (including the red milkweed beetle, the star of our herbivory experiment).  Next week, I will start to document our field work, featuring a bully butterfly, many ticks, and a brief fainting spell by yours truly.


  1. egeichenberger says:

    Glad to hear the Blandy milkweed is doing well– and that you’re seeing more interesting insects than the mites and thrips currently plaguing the greenhouse! How do you go about identifying the insects you’re not familiar with? Is there a database somewhere that you find useful? I know some of my hobbiest friends use iNaturalist to community-source identifications, but that’st not very scientific!