Host and Guests: Texas Ragwort
This year we have had a big bloom of Texas Ragwort, and on my walks I noticed many insects visiting them.
These photos were taken over about a one-month period. That is a nice long bloom time for a wildflower.
They are growing in an 11-acre pasture, and one thing I noticed, was that the area with the most insect activity seemed to change from day to day. One day a ring of Ragwort growing around a dead oak tree would have all kinds of insects, but the rest of the field wouldn’t have any. The next day it might change to a small area of open field, or to a ring around a Tupelo tree, or to the edge of the field near some pine saplings. I would love to know why that is.
I am so grateful for iNaturalist, for help in identifying all these species! I used to spend hours going through guidebooks, only to give up.
Now when I post a picture of a species, the AI on iNaturalist makes suggestions as to species, and then I can look at their information pages to help me choose a species or genus to label the picture. After that, quite often specialists will jump in and help me make a more precise ID.
And now, once I have the species ID from iNaturalist, when I go to look it up in my guidebook collection, I find that they don’t even mention that species. For example, I own about 6 books on Texas wildflowers — Texas Ragwort is mentioned in just one, and the picture given is of a species that is closely related, but has an entirely different leaf. I would never have figured out the ID on my own.
I also used to print out my photos and try to arrange them taxonomically in binders, to create my own personalized guidebooks. Now iNaturalist does all that automatically as well.
If you would like to see all of my observations on iNaturalist, my page is here. And if you have an account on that site, please let me know and I will look you up! 🙂
A very beneficial plant for insects. A lot of similar insects to here. The American Painted Lady is an Australian Painted Lady here but look very similar 🙂
It is always interesting to me when similar creatures live so far apart. And then what I really love about visits to your blog is seeing all kinds of plants and birds I would never even imagine, things that are so different from what I am used to. 🙂
It is quite amazing to see other places plants and animals and birds. I like seeing the photos of those who live in deserts as to me that is so alien.
The Ragwort that is here is a declared pest weed 🙂
One reason your books may not mention your Texas ragwort is that it’s been moved to a different genus. It used to be lumped in with the Packera species, but for reasons known only to the taxonomists, it was moved to Senecio. Down here, Packera glabella also is known as Texas ragwort, and Packera plattensis, the prairie groundsel or prairie ragwort, used to be in Senecio. Lordy!
What I am certain of is that your caterpillar in the last photos is the salt marsh caterpillar: Estigmene acrea. It’s not limited to salt marshes; it got its name because it was originally catalogued in salt marshes around Boston. It changes color through its life cycle; some of the young ones can be almost yellow. The moth is a beautiful black and white. I finally saw my first moth this spring, but I’ve seen dozens of the caterpillars all over the state. They’re really cute, and I’ll bet they love your plants!
Thank you for giving me the history of the plant name!
iNaturalist identified the plant as Senecio ampullaceus, so that is what I looked up. Roadside Flowers of Texas from 1961 (paintings by Mary Motz Wills, text by Howard S. Irwin) does briefly describe that plant, but the illustration shows S. plattensis, with what to my eye looks more like leaf lettuce-type leaves.
Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide from 1984, has an entry for S. ampullaceus with a photo that looks a lot like the plant here, but then it also describes (with no photo) S. glabellus: “Yellow-top butterweed is an attractive plant, especially when it blankets many acres with the sun shining across the plants…East Texas,” and that is certainly the situation I see this year, this plant is blooming in every pasture.
So I looked up both of those on the USDA Plants website; it gives S. ampullaceus Hook the common name of Texas ragwort, but it doesn’t show the leaves. It told me that S. glabellus was now Packera glabella, and offered some illustrations of the leaves, but they are not like the plant we have here.
Other books I checked were: Audubon Field Guide (1990) – a mention but no illustration; Geyata Ajilvsgi’s Wildflowers of Texas (2003) which shows only the flowers of S. ampullaceus; Brush and Weeds of Texas Rangelands (2008) and Texas Range Plants (1993)which both show only S. douglasii, threadleaf groundsel.
So for someone like me with limited knowledge, I think iNaturalist is a very good and quick resource. I know things can get misidentified there, but over all they have so much more information than what can fit in a book.
I learned the caterpillar ID from iNaturalist too, and I labeled it in the caption for the video, but after your comment, I went back and checked and no caption appears with the video! So I fixed it in the photo. 🙂 Thanks again for your info!
I forgot to mention that I have an account on iNat, but I rarely post, and use it primarily as a secondary check on IDs I’ve already considered. I do follow several projects, which are immensely helpful: like these.
One book I depend on more than any other is Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas. It’s recent (copyright 2018) and is a good guide to taxonomic changes. It’s also well organized by color and plant family, so it’s easy to use. Of course it doesn’t contain everything, but I keep a copy in the car and one at home; together with my PictureThis app, it’s always provided me a starting place, if not an answer.
PictureThis has expanded now, and provides IDs for insects, trees, and so on. It has a neat 360 degree feature that allows taking three photos of a given plant, like flower/stem/leaf. I use it and BugGuide now for insects, and love it.
It sounds like I should get the Eason book and pass on all my others. 🙂
I had not heard of PictureThis. I know BugGuide and have used it, but I don’t have enough knowledge to use it for initial IDS. I go there to check the species that iNat has suggested.
I followed you on iNat a long time ago, but I did not check the projects you follow! Those look like great resources that are right up my alley, thanks for mentioning them!
One other note about PictureThis: I found that I also can use it to take photos of photos already on my computer. A good number of unidentified plants received their proper names thanks to the app!
That is a great short cut! I am slowly uploading some of my old photos to iNat but I am not systematic about it.
I don’t know why the mob of insects would roam around like that. I’m guessing it has something to do with food and scent they are detecting.
I have an account as jar-47. There is not a lot there.
When the weather warms in the spring, we sometimes get a stinkbug in the house. They get escorted back outside. I wonder if the same one comes back in.
I was wondering that about the insect movement too — maybe some flowers were hitting a certain stage of maturity or something.
I looked you up on iNat — your plant pictures are so nice and clear! I have a hard time with that. One of my friends carries a piece of black cardboard with her to give a background so the plant stands out. I keep meaning to do that but I always forget.
Thanks. The leaf details can disappear in a 2-D image. I sometimes close one eye to view the scene as the camera will capture it. Makes a big difference compared to both eyes in 3-D.
That is a good tip! And one I had never heard before, thanks!
This is a great post, Ranger. I haven’t had much luck with iNaturalist. I have ‘Seek’ on my phone, but I’m clearly not using it properly. I’ll need to re-think how I’m using it.
I wonder if you are looking at plants that don’t have a lot of observations yet, so that the app doesn’t know what they are.
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