It’s June – where are all the native bees?

A hike in a Phoenix nature preserve today revealed very little in bloom, and consequently few native bees or butterflies.

Most of the Sonoran Desert native bees have just one generation per year, so, unlike the non-native Western Honeybee, many native bees will only be active and visible during the Spring or Summer wildflower blooms.

During my hike today, the only flowers I observed were on White Ratany, which was being visited by a bee species whose flower visits were so brief it would take an AI to get a photo,

White Ratany

California Barrel Cactus, whose flowers weren’t yet opened,

California Barrel Cactus

and Coues’ Senna, which had mainly gone to seed but still managed to produce flowers.

Coues’ Senna

Native bees feed on pollen and nectar as well as flower oils for germicidal and bonding properties. Many are solitary, meaning they don’t belong to social hives, and make their nests and brood by burrowing into the ground or using tunnels in wood made by wood-boring beetles.

In my yard in North Phoenix, the native bees seem to have disappeared for a week or so before I wrote this post, so I figured they were gone for the season, even though there are plenty of Desert Marigolds, Zinnias, Sunflowers, Rush Milkweeds, Lantana and Desert Willows in bloom.

But then they reappeared. If native bees for the most part have only one generation per season, how can they be gone and then come back?

So I reached out to Elliott, our resident native bee contributor, and he had a bit of light to shed on the situation:

There’s a few things. Bet hedging, where not every egg hatches every year in case of droughts. Seasonality of host plants for sure and what else in the area is providing food that might be attracting them away from your yard. Pesticides and lack of suitable nesting habitat is a big urban problem. Also, there’s usually small bees going undetected by human observers due to their size and speed.

Elliott Gordon

In addition, I reached out to my friends in the Pollinator Gardening in the Southwest facebook group and asked what they are seeing in their yards.

The larger longhorn bees are active this month on Gaillardia pulchella flowers; Svastra obliqua and many Melissodes males and a few females of both species. The female Valley Carpenter Bees are still out every day. Lots of Triepeolus Cuckoo bees and Anthophora californica bees. The Svastra duplocincta time their June emerging with the neighbor’s Barrel Cactus flowering, which it has already and the males and females are now out and about in large numbers. Lots of activity in my Arizona garden even with the 111 degrees we had today. The number of Megachile bees are lower than usual this year, however. Wondering if the various cuckoo bees that showed up this year in greater numbers than previous were responsible.

Kim Neubauer, Phoenix West Side

I see gulf fritillary butterflies daily and occasionally giant swallowtails and queens. Lots of native bees, mainly sweat bees, leaf cutters, carpenter bees, and another that I haven’t identified.

MM, Central/Midtown Phoenix

A few Queens at the Mistflowers, weekly visit of Giant Swallowtails to the orange tree, a few Skippers at zinnias and Mexican Evening Primrose. Plus 3-4 species of native bees on the sunflowers, desert lavender, globe mallows, coreopsis, fairy duster & Superstition mallow.

MH, NE Phoenix

Phoenix temps 110. Not seeing too many 🦋 besides gulf fritillaries. Bees and wasp come around splashes in the pool to try and get water.

VC, Phoenix

A lot. At my fountain plants.

SBC, Phoenix

Plenty! My garden is full of yellow flowers and pollinators, but the wild spaces are brown and dry from lack of rain. I saw yard bee species 82 last weekend and yard moth/butterfly 100 last night.

Elliott Gordon, Albuquerque

You can learn more about native bees at:

Meet the Author: Dr. Shaun McCoshum

Shaun McCoshum is the author of two books on pollinators and gardening – Gardening for Wildlife in the arid south west regions and Inviting Pollinators and Other Wildlife Into Your Garden – available on He received a master’s degree in botany from Miami University (Ohio) and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University in zoology.

Hunt’s Bumblebee on Rabbitbrush

What is your background? How did you first get interested in bees and gardening for wildlife?

From a young age I had been gardening and using permaculture techniques before I even learned the term. My maternal grandparents lived a block away, and they both were in their late teens when the Great Depression hit. When I was six, both my parents lost their jobs and we became really poor, and very food insecure, so my grandmother got to work. She had me helping her do work to grow fruits and vegetables in her garden. Most people did not realize how much of the yard was growing food for us. In back we had more organized food gardens. I continued gardening throughout my younger years; then in high school, I started working as a landscaper and helping friends and family install similar gardens, all the while being aware that areas needed to be cared for to support wildlife to help control pests and pollinate flowers.

These experiences simply paved the way for me to study biology at Humboldt State University and get a botany minor. Between my master’s and PhD, I worked in conservation, which really helped me grasp ecological niches, microhabitats, and looking at areas from the animal’s perspective. During my PhD, I focused on pollinator communities and worked on side projects with monarch butterflies. I went on to do my post-doctoral work at Cornell University working on bee communities in the Mojave Desert and their vegetation community associations, as well as large-scale solar farm impacts to those communities. After my post-doc, I worked as the preserve manager for Westchester Land Trust in New York, then moved onto consulting and permitting, which I do now, while still collecting data and publishing research and books.

Gray hairstreak and bee fly on Cowpen daisy

Why did you decide to write a gardening book?

The short answer is because a few people told me I should. With my background in native bees, monarch butterflies, ecology, and conservation, I end up doing a lot of public speaking. I also enjoy reading gardening articles. Between these two things, I kept answering questions that were clearly based on incomplete or incorrect information, most of it printed in gardening articles and even coming from some conservation groups. My first book focused only on the arid regions of North America to help clarify some of the misinformation that is spread around. [Read my review of his first book here.]

Who is your intended audience? Anyone who has an interest in urban ecology, wildlife conservation, or gardening.

Ashmeadiella bee and flower beetle on native bindweed

What piece of advice would you give to people wanting to start a pollinator garden?

Pollinator gardens should be viewed in context of their surrounding landscape and provide shelter, in addition to native plants for target species. For example, in densely populated urban areas where lawns are abundant and habitat is lacking, a small pollinator garden will not be accessible to bee species that have been driven away, nor will it support many bees overall. Therefore, providing an abundance of flowers for smaller generalist bees and butterfly host plants will be more useful than flowers that support just a few bee species or do not host any butterflies. Resources for nesting bees and pupating butterflies would have to be selected based on the region, but a few logs with holes drilled in always helps. Conversely in areas where there are more wild, plant-filled areas, pollinator gardens that use native plants uncommon in the area will help local pollinator communities because species dependent on those plants are likely still nearby. Viewing a garden from the landscape context is also helpful when trying to attract other wildlife like birds, toads, or even lizards. 

Bordered patch caterpillar on sunflower

What kind of research did you do for the book?

So much. In addition to the literal decades of studying, reading scientific literature, doing conservation work, new data collection, and gardening – I started compiling data for topics and reading various forums, print articles, and reviewing resources gardeners might be using. The most important research I did for this book was probably gathering the data for plant and bee associations, and their current ranges. For the bee species profiles I also reviewed a lot of literature searching to find what substrates each species nested in. I put these aspects together to provide specific information on what a pollinator garden that would “save the bees” really looks like, going beyond articles with native plant lists that benefit honeybees, not native bees.

For the articles that do talk about “bee hotels,” they inadvertently prioritize a nesting behavior used by about 30% of bees and rarely address proper size or care of those structures. There are very few articles that address ground nesting bees, which my new book covers; but promoting ground nesting bees is showing up more and more on online platforms, which is good to see.

Checkered skipper on paperflower

Were there any surprise findings? What did you learn in the process?

The most surprising thing I found was how much we simply do not know about pollinators. I had been somewhat aware of the lack of data, but it wasn’t until I was trying to compile information that I really grasped the lack of data. For example, there are over 4,000 species of native bees in the continental United States, but researchers have described the nests of less than 500 species. Frustratingly, many of those descriptions do not characterize soil texture or document entrance solar exposure, both of which are important to nesting bees. So, in this book, soil diversity and structure are discussed to help cover different possibilities. Sandy soils are used more often by nesting bees than any other type of soil.

It was also shocking to see, and this is in the book too, that more than 50% of counties in the contiguous United States have fewer than five native bee species digitized as of 2020. We simply have not done a thorough survey. The data for which bee species feed on which plants are also lacking. Even in this book I could only report plant associations, and I explain this does not mean the bees will feed on those plants. When bee researchers collect bees, they often do not include notes on if the bees were collecting pollen, feeding on nectar, collecting oils, plant parts, or simply sitting on the plant. Most likely, the bees were feeding in one way or another, but the data simply do not exist for most bee species yet. Luckily, community science platforms like iNaturalist are improving our knowledge, but it is difficult to help gardeners choose plants for their gardens when we aren’t sure which bee species might be in the area.

Male longhorn bee (Melissodes) on Spiny goldenweed

All pictures by Shaun M. McCoshum, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC). Some answers edited for clarity and length. My thanks to Shaun for agreeing to be interviewed. – Elliott

Book Review: Gardening for Wildlife in the arid south west regions

Thank you for reading my review of “A short introduction to Gardening for Wildlife in the arid south west regions” by Dr. Shaun McCoshum. If you are interested, the book is available for purchase on

With 29 full-size pages, this book is lightweight, but not light on content. It is specifically aimed at arid environments, which is refreshing given the lush, yet unrealistic, gardens portrayed on many websites. Even if we long for shady lawns, it’s irresponsible to maintain high water use landscaping in Arizona and New Mexico.

Native desert landscapes can serve as inspiration for our own gardens, and they are the best way to support native wildlife

The book is essentially split into 5 sections: brainstorming/planning for your garden, reptiles, bees, butterflies, and birds. I would characterize this book as in between a do-it-yourself guide and a reference manual – it has explicit instructions for planning your space, lizard sunning spots, bee hotel, and water feature, but also leaves it open to the reader in terms of selecting plants and doing further research.

The ligated furrow bee, Halictus ligatus, and Spiny goldenweed, Xanthisma spinulosum are discussed in this book

One of the strengths of the book is the knowledge Dr. McCoshum brings to the bee section. I love the discussion of ground-nesting bees, which are the majority of native bees in the world (and especially the desert southwest). The book addresses crucial elements of bee habitat in addition to the plants that they forage. Regarding the plant lists, you may want a wildflower book or Internet browser handy, as the names are largely in Latin.

Bottom line, I recommend this book. I think it will be most useful to people starting out, renovating part of a yard, or wanting to attract more of a specific kind of wildlife, like bees or lizards. It would make a great, not so subtle, gift to a neighbor who’s still hanging onto their lawn. You can hear more from Dr. McCoshum in this Youtube recording of a talk he gave for NMSU:

Glamorous Moths #5 – Penstemonia

The way that gardeners feel about moths and butterflies is often quite different, despite how closely related they are. We are happy to grow milkweed to attract Monarchs and allow the caterpillars to devour whole plants. Weed is in the name milkweed, so I think we value the plant more for its role in the Monarch’s life cycle. On the other hand, who ever heard of growing corn to attract Helicoverpa zea or tomatoes to encourage Manduca sexta?

Perhaps the most despised moth is the peach tree borer, which “bring major harm to important fruit-crop trees, destroying the tree’s vascular system through boring and girdling while inducing plant pathogens to invade the weakened tree” (Source). That’s terrible, right? How dare those selfish moths cripple our precious fruit trees?

Without further ado, I would like to introduce the Penstemon clearwing, also known as the Beardtongue borer.

Penstemonia clarkei, Clarke’s Penstemon clearwing, seen in Los Alamos, New Mexico

Penstemonia is a genus of moths in western North America (presumably including northern Mexico) in the family Sessiidae (clearwing moths). [Quick sidenote: Hemaris clearwing moths are in the hawk moth family, Sphingidae.]

Clearwing moths often resemble wasps and bees in coloration and marking. They have elongate wings, often transparent owing to the lack of scales. Most of the larvae are borers in the limbs, trunks, bark, or roots of trees, shrubs, herbs and vines (like the infamous peach tree borer). Some bore in galls on woody or herbaceous plants. Majority of adults take nectar. [Source:]

What about our Penstemon clearwing? 

There are at least 5 species of Penstemonia in North America. Larval feeding is probably limited to Penstemon or closely related plant species in Cheloneae. (I’ve discussed Penstemon plants on the blog before: The larva will be found within a stem [or roots] at crown level and damage appears as a wilting or dieback of individual stems. Pupation is probably in the soil at the base of plants, but there is no description of them. [Source: Colorado State University Extension (]

I have a feeling that populations of Penstemonia moths will start to increase and spread as more gardeners grow native, drought tolerant beardtongue plants. I hope you will welcome these pollinators into your yards with open arms.

What are those white “eggs” all over my Cascalote?

Also described a “salt deposits” or “sugary specs” and followed by yellowing leaves, black mold spots and defoliation. What’s going on?

Freysuila dugesii (Jumping Plant Lice)
Generally host-specific, and appearing in late spring

Sometimes called jumping plant lice, psyllid feed on a variety of plants. Both adults and nymphs feed by piercing the leaf surface to extract cell sap, and excrete “honeydew”, a sweet sticky residue that may attract ants or mold. When I first saw these white deposits, they appeared to be insect eggs, but others have described them as a crystal-like sugar deposit.

You may be familiar with the term honeydew as related to aphid infestations, a sweet excretion loved by ants. In fact, it’s believed that ants protect and cultivate aphids in order to harvest the honeydew. Psyllids are part of a group called Sternorrhyncha that includes aphids, scale insects and whiteflies.

Leafhopper Assassin Bug feeding on Mesquite Psyllid

Controlling Psyllids

Although a psyllid infestation is rarely lethal for the tree, it obviously takes its toll in the form of leaf loss, virus infections and, well, reduced garden aesthetics. Here are some measures you can take to control the infestation:

  • Spray the leaves daily with water to knock off honeydew and psyllids. If performed diligently this can minimize the infestation, but psyllids can fly away and come back.
  • Spray the complete tree with Neem oil. Psyllids hide in between branches and nymphs like the back side of leaves, so complete coverage is best. Neem oil is practically non-toxic to birds, mammals, bees and plants. Neem oil is slightly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms. Azadirachtin, a component of neem oil, is moderately toxic to fish and other aquatic animals. It is important to remember that insects must eat the treated plant to be killed. Therefore, bees and other pollinators are not likely to be harmed.
  • Biologic control with parasites and predators. Important natural enemies of psyllids include lady beetleslacewing larvae, predaceous bugs, Leafhopper Assassin bugs, and tiny parasitic wasps.

For more information:

Pollinator Web: Arizona Bark Scorpion

Observing the cast of characters that comprise the pollinator web ecosystem in the low desert in Phoenix Arizona.

Although this scorpion does not seek to attack humans, it will sting if threatened, especially if its young are threatened. The bark scorpion is able to climb vertical surfaces that are sufficiently rough, and can enter a dwelling through cracks as small as 1/16″. They are nocturnal and can be found under rocks, wood piles or bark, as well as on rock walls or in trees.

Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus)

The Arizona bark scorpion is the most venomous species in North America; potent enough to cause severe symptoms, such as severe pain, numbness and vomiting in adults.

But of course, the Arizona bark scorpion plays a critical role in the ecosystem, as both predator and prey. They consume beetles, spiders, crickets, cockroaches, other insects and other scorpions. And they are a food source for pallid bats, birds (especially owls), reptiles, spiders, snakes, peccaries, rodents and other scorpions.

The pollinator web ecosystem is well balanced, and even characters that we may find scary have their place.

For more information:

The Lifecycle of Butterflies

A comparative look at a few southwest species

It’s early May in Phoenix and we’re starting to see lots of blues, and more and more Monarchs, Queens, Yellows, Whites and Skippers. But in my yard there has been an interesting lag the past couple of years – I’ll observe an early generation of butterflies in March/early April, then for a few weeks hardly any butterflies.

Is this cycle unique to my yard, or perhaps it’s related to the natural lifecycle of our butterflies? An early generation becomes active (or migrate in) in March, mate and lay eggs, then a few weeks later the next generation begin to show up in the yard. Let’s look at the lifecycles of some of our butterflies.

Gulf Fritillary

We had a mild winter this year and I’ve seen Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the passion vine without stop. They are cold blooded though, so cold temps will slow down their metabolism.

Lifecycle: Egg to Adult in 4 – 5 Weeks
Egg stage – 4 to 8 days
Caterpillar – 2 to 3 weeks
Chrysalis – 5 to 10 days
Butterfly – 2 to 4 weeks


The Monarchs develop from egg to adult in about 4 weeks:

  • Eggs hatch in about 4 days. Females lay one egg on a plant; in their lifetime they will lay 100-300 eggs.
  • Caterpillars go through five instars in about 14 days. When they first hatch, caterpillars eat the egg shell for nourishment. Similarly, they eat shed skin after every molt.
  • Chrysalis stage is about 14 days

The overwintering generation lives about eight months due to a biologic change that stops reproductive behavior during their migration south. The summer generations of the butterfly live only three to five weeks.

Great Purple Hairstreak

Great Purple Hairstreak

Lifecycle: Egg to adult in 5 – 8 weeks

  • Egg – 4 to 6 days
  • Caterpillar – 3 to 4 weeks 
  • Chrysalis – 10 to 20 days
  • Adult – 4 to 10 days

Painted Lady

Lifecycle: Egg to adult in 4 – 8 weeks

  • Egg – 4 to 14 days
  • Caterpillar – 2 to 4 weeks
  • Chrysalis – 7 to 14 days
  • Adult – 6 to 20 days

Milkweed Bugs: Friend or Foe?

What are those reddish-orange and black bugs crawling all over your milkweed, and are they harmful? Like many elements in an ecosystem, the answer fits into the gray zone.

Large Milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and Small Milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmia) love your milkweeds as much as the Monarch and Queen butterflies, and they exist together as part of the natural ecosystem. Although their common names are similar, large and small milkweed bugs differ in more than size.

Large milkweed bugs (LMBs) are herbivorous – they feed on the leaves, stems, and seeds of milkweed using their long proboscis. In general this is not harmful to the milkweed plant, although if there is a large population boom, LMBs can stress the plant and cause misshapen seeds and lower seed production.

Large Milkweed Bug: note the black band across the wings and red face mask

Small Milkweed bugs (SMBs) are mostly herbivorous, but can occasionally be scavengers. These insects have been reported feeding on a wide variety of other insects, such as honey bees, monarch caterpillars and pupae, and dogbane beetles. While it may be disappointing to see monarch eggs, larvae or pupae preyed upon, this is all part of a vibrant milkweed ecosystem, and this predatory behavior is likely most common when their preferred food source is scarce.

Small Milkweed Bug: note the reddish-orange pattern forms an “X”

Milkweed bugs protect themselves by ingesting, then storing, cardiac glycosides from the milkweed, and as a result don’t have an issue with natural predators. The reddish-orange coloration is a warning to predators to stay away.

So should you be concerned about milkweed bugs in your garden? In general, no, they are part of the balanced ecosystem. However, if there is a large population boom, you may elect to reduce feeding pressure by culling some of the bugs, although this is a contentious subject 😉


The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ by Sheila R. Colla (2022)

Over recent decades, the plight of wild bees and other pollinators has gone from a niche area to one of the most mainstream environmental topics. Scientific research interest, capacity and consequently publications have grown tremendously in recent years, as has mainstream media coverage. The public has been engaged in a variety of ways to “save the bees” including through community science, policy consultation, planting of pollinator gardens and other widespread initiatives and campaigns … ‘Bee washing’, a term coined by MacIvor and Packer (2015), refers to items or actions claiming to support declining bee populations, and thus claiming to be pro-environment, without due diligence or scientific support … The crux of the matter is that when conservation actions are misplaced, as in the case with bee washing, they can actively harm populations meant to be conserved, waste limited resources (e.g. time, energy, money), misinform the public and/or de-legitimize scientific evidence.

Excerpts from Colla, S. R. (2022). The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ on wild bee health and conservation.

To read more, visit or the International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, 18, 30–32

Native bumblebees may be threatened by “pathogen spillover” from managed species

In order to better protect wild bee health and biodiversity, conservation actions and policy will have to shift away from bee washing to more evidence-based, nuanced and precautionary approaches. Efforts should focus on reducing the reliance of systems on managed bees and reducing the impacts of managed bee use on wild bees. This will require policy which acknowledges and values the importance of wild bee health biodiversity for pollination services for crop plants and for resilience under climate change. Critical actions to protect wild bee health includes screening and monitoring of pathogens among commercial stock and in adjacent wild populations.

Excerpt from Colla, S. R. (2022). The potential consequences of ‘bee washing’ on wild bee health and conservation.

On Farming Metal From Plants and Intelligence Beyond Humans

Basking in our industrial and technological successes, humans have proudly flaunted their superiority over the natural world. But now the true cost of that hubris is coming to light – is it too late?

The answer will likely only make itself available in hindsight, but it’s not too late to learn.

In James Bridle’s Guardian article we a glimpse through the clouds at natural intelligence that has surrounded us, unnoticed until relatively recently. Read the story here.

There is so much intelligence on this planet other than ours. Realising that will be key to adapting to climate breakdown.

If we can farm metal from plants, what else can we learn from life on Earth? James Bridle

And how a slime mold, which is a creature somewhere between fungi and amoebae, can solve the “traveling salesman” problem faster than any supercomputer. The problem at hand: A salesman must visit n cities, going to each city only once, and then return to their starting point — what is the shortest possible route that they can take? Read the Science News article here.

And how cows, sheep and dogs appear to anticipate earthquakes better than any sensor or algorithm. Read the Scientific American article here.

And the octopus, whose distributed nervous system illustrates a different way of thinking. Read the Scientific American Mind article here.

Or how about spiders offloading cognitive tasks to their webs? Read the Quanta Magazine article here.

And not to leave out our often overlooked neighbors, how plants talk to each other through their roots. Read the Guardian article here.

One Year in my Pollinator Garden

Painted Lady visits apple blossoms (Vanessa cardui on Malus domestica)

I joined iNaturalist in April 2021 to participate in the City Nature Challenge – 2022 edition is coming up soon! – and I had no idea at the time that it would be my go-to resource for appreciating and documenting the visitors in my pollinator garden. I was quickly drawn in by the many friendly and knowledgeable users and the potential to improve my understanding of the natural world. One year later, I’m delighted to reminisce and share highlights from my edible garden and native plant xeriscape. It has been a blast watching, photographing, and learning to identify hundreds of species of plants and animals. Please, join me for a celebration of diversity in my New Mexico neighborhood.

3 varieties of sunflowers (Helianthus) blooming in summer 2021

Getting Started

My journey to hosting a pollinator garden in Albuquerque began with an all but blank slate. The front yard was a sea of bare gravel plus cheatgrass, tumbleweeds, and goatheads, while the back featured 8 Russian olive trees and plenty of dandelions. In 2020, I decided to transform the landscaping and hired a local company to cut down the invasive trees. In their places, I planted Peach and Apple trees for fruit, Utah serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) and New Mexico olive (Forestiera pubescens) to feed songbirds, and Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) for shade and fall color. Thanks to the New Mexico Native Plants Society, Plants of the Southwest, Osuna Nursery, Hilltop Landscaping, the American Penstemon Society, and the ABQ Backyard Refuge Program, I found plenty of resources and support to select appropriate, drought-tolerant plants for my yard and begin to create habitat for wildlife.

Habronattus festus jumping spider

Watching the Grass Grow

At the beginning of the project, I typically saw common city birds, lizards, bumblebees, rock squirrels, paper wasps, and not much else. It takes a while for new plants to get established and for neighborhood critters to (re)discover my yard. It’s all worth it now for moments like watching an American Robin eat serviceberries, a longhorn bee sleeping on a sunflower, or munching on a fresh apple that I grew.

Large-tailed Aphideater (Eupeodes volucris hoverfly) on Arugula

When I started, I was familiar with common pollinators, like honeybees and hummingbirds, but there were so many branches of the Animal kingdom of which I wasn’t aware. (I’m doing a little better now and I hope you’ll scroll through some of our visual guides Insects – Pollinator Web.) By slowing down and observing with purpose, I find something new in the garden almost every day. It is both fun and frustrating to follow a little bee on her journey to collect pollen as I struggle to get clear pictures for identification.

Tripartite Sweat Bee on Scorpionweed (Halictus tripartitus on Phacelia integrifolia)

By The Numbers

Honestly, I have been blown away by the diversity that can exist in 0.2-acres of land. We tend to think of deserts as arid and empty; in reality, Arizona and New Mexico combined have over 1,000 species of native bees plus more than 300 species of butterflies! I have recorded more than 600 yard species in the last 12 months, using iNaturalist. They include:

  • >100 species of cultivated plants, including 20 varieties of native trees and shrubs
  • 75 bees
  • 59 butterflies and moths
  • 59 birds
  • 58 flies
  • 50 ‘true bugs’ (Hemiptera)
  • 47 volunteer plant species (“weeds” and wildflowers introduced by wind or animals)
  • 45 wasps
  • 37 beetles
  • 21 spiders
  • 12 crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids
  • 11 ants
  • New Mexico Whiptails and Southwestern Fence lizards
  • Flame Skimmer and Blue-fronted Dancer (dragonflies)
  • 2 springtails
  • 1 mayfly!
An unexpected mayfly showed up as I was leaving for work last year

Closing Thoughts

Imagine what we can do working together in our communities by planting yards full of flowers, instead of spraying chemicals and mowing lawns.

Every square inch of planet earth has ecological significance, even where we live, work, and play. If we landscape these areas with plant function as well as aesthetics in mind, we can create viable habitat where humans are, not just where humans are not … Today’s environmental challenges are so enormous that it is easy to feel helpless, as if one person can’t make a difference – despite the cliché that suggests you can. In this case, however, the cliché is right on: by choosing ecologically-effective plants for your landscape, by shrinking your lawn, and by removing your invasive ornamentals – all actions a single person can take – you will be able to make a difference that you can see, and enjoy, almost immediately. Life will return to your property!

Quote from Doug Tallamy
Lewis’ Soldier Beetles were abundant in fall 2021 on snakeweed, goldenweed, and Chamisa

Glamorous Moths #4 – Southern Flannel Moth

Wide ranging across the southern USA and northern Mexico, the Southern Flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis, is this week’s featured moth. Read more here, if you’re interested: Megalopyge opercularis ( Flannel moths are in Superfamily Zygaenoidea with Jewel Caterpillar moths, like Dalcerides.

Male Megalopyge opercularis by Judy Aschner on

It’s larval food plants are mostly oak trees and some Manzanita species in Arizona and Mexico. The caterpillar is small and hairy like adults and it would be really cool to find one in the wild, so please let us know if you see any!

Southern Flannel caterpillar by Diana Foreman on

The Ladies and a Gentleman

Painted Lady, American Lady, West Coast Lady and Red Admiral Butterflies

Brush-footed butterflies belonging to the genus Vanessa, the name of the genus may have been taken from the character Vanessa in Jonathan Swift’s poem “Cadenus and Vanessa,” which is the source of the woman’s name Vanessa. In the poem Vanessa is called a “nymph” eleven times, and the genus is closely related to the previously-named genus Nymphalis (Wikipedia).

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardul, is the most widespread of all butterfly species, and, like the Monarch, has an amazing migratory story to tell.

Distinguishing features include 4-5 submarginal spots on the underside of the wing, and a white outline at the outer edges of the top of the wing near the white spots.

Larval host plants include Arizona Thistle, Desert Cotton, Globemallows, Western Betony, Mexican Sunflower Bush, Yarrow and Western Mugwort. Adults feed on nectar.

Males perch on shrubs or hilltops and patrol for females. Females are generally larger than males.

Females lay eggs singly on the top of host plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves tied with silk. Adults hibernate in mild winters.

West Coast Lady

The West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, are the least ranging of the Vanessa species in the continental U.S. In fact, it’s typically limited to the Western part of the country.

Distinguishing features include an orange patch at the top outer edge of the wing on the top side and 4-5 submarginal spots on the underside.

Larval host plants include Globemallows, Hollyhocks and other plants in the mallow family. Adults feed on nectar.

Males perch to watch for receptive females. Females lay eggs singly on upperside of host plant leaves; caterpillars eat leaves and live in a silken nest. Adults hibernate.

American Lady

The American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, reside in the Southern United States and temporarily colonize the northern states.

Distinguishing features include two large eye spots on the underside of the wing, and a white spot in the orange field on the topside of the wing.

Larval host plants include Globemallows, Western Mugwort, Sonoran Everlasting and Groundsel. Adults feed on nectar.

In the afternoon, males perch on hilltops or vegetation to patrol for females.

Females lay eggs singly on the top of host plant leaves. Caterpillars are solitary, living and feeding in a nest of leaves tied with silk. Adults hibernate.

photo by justmarys on iNaturalist

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, is wide ranging from Mexico up to Canada, but cannot survive cold winters so most of the northern U.S. is recolonized each spring by southern migrants.

Markings are quite easy to distinguish from the Ladies. Red admirals are territorial; females will only mate with males that hold territory. 

photo by burkardleitner on iNaturalist

Larval host plants include New Mexico Hops and plants in the nettles family.

The Red Admiral has a very erratic, rapid flight. Males perch, on ridgetops if available, in the afternoon to wait for females, who lay eggs singly on the tops of host plant leaves. Young caterpillars eat and live within a shelter of folded leaves; older caterpillars make a nest of leaves tied together with silk. Adults hibernate.


Meet the Plants: More Beardtongues

Common southwest species include Beardlip/Scarlet bugler (top row, 2nd from left), Palmer’s beardtongue (top, 3rd from right), and Rocky Mountain beardtongue (bottom row, 2nd from right).

I previously shared a few common garden Penstemon in this post. Yesterday, I was watching a talk on Penstemon by Dr. Andi Wolfe (Ohio State University) and she has some beautiful slides. Please enjoy this look at Penstemon diversity.

The shape and size of Penstemon flowers varies dramatically. Top row, second from the left, is Penstemon barbatus, a common wild and garden plant in Arizona and New Mexico.
Botanists use the anthers (male reproductive organs) of Penstemon flowers to classify species.
In the bottom of most Penstemon flowers is the staminode aka beardtongue. One theory states that this provides a landing platform for bees to enter the flowers.

Glamorous Moths #3 – ‘Colorado’ Yucca Moth

This is the third post in a semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. Today, I’d like to introduce you to yucca moths.

Prodoxus coloradensis © BJ Stacey on

Yucca moths are in the Family Prodoxidae and found across the USA and Mexico. They are a spring and summer moth, timing their flights with blooms of different plants in the Agave family (Asparagaceae). Prodoxus coloradensis is found from southern California to West Texas and north along the front range of Colorado. It’s black stripes are a bold contrast to many plain, white yucca moth species.

Yucca moth caterpillar © Bill Harms on

Like all desert blooms, Joshua trees depend on just the perfect conditions: well-timed rains, and for the Joshua tree, a crisp winter freeze. Researchers believe that freezing temperatures may damage the growing end of a branch and stimulate flowering, followed by branching. You may notice some Joshua trees grow like straight stalks; these trees have never bloomed—which is why they are branchless! In addition to ideal weather, the pollination of flowers requires a visit from the yucca moth. The moth collects pollen while laying her eggs inside the flower ovary. As seeds develop and mature, the eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on the seeds. The tree relies on the moth for pollination and the moth relies on the tree for a few seeds for her young—a happy symbiosis. 


The Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

The Gulf fritillary or passion butterfly (Agraulis vanillae/Dione vanillae) is a bright orange butterfly in the subfamily Heliconiinae of the family Nymphalidae.

Females are generally larger and have more brown in their markings. Gulf fritillaries have a chemical defense mechanism in which they release odorous chemicals in response to predator sightings. As a result, common predators learn to avoid this species.

Gulf Fritillaries have several broods in spring and summer, and can survive winter temperatures as low as 21 degrees F. Adults overwinter.

Favorite nectar plants include Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Zinnia, Aster and Thistle.

Yellow eggs are laid singly on or near some species of Passion Vines like Maypops (Passiflora incarnata), Passiflora lutea and Passiflora affinis. Eggs gradually turn a brownish-red color.

Left: A Gulf Fritillary nectaring on Lantana

Suitable host plant species provide a good structure for larval host habitats which enables young populations of gulf fritillaries to be sufficiently nurtured and protected.

The driving factor behind what causes the female to oviposit on or near the host plant is most likely due to the certain chemical composition of the specific genus of the host plant. Once the female recognizes the chemical composition (by using the antennae), the female will oviposit.

Larvae may feed on all parts of the plant and can rapidly defoliate host vines.

Right: Caterpillar on Bluecrown Passionflower (Passiflora caerulea)

Gulf Fritillary and chrysalis

When the caterpillar is ready to create a chrysalis, it turns a grayish color and begins to spin a silk-like ball that it uses to attach to a surface.

The pupa is mottled brown and resembles a dead leaf.

Egg stage – 4 to 8 days
Caterpillar – 2 to 3 weeks
Chrysalis – 5 to 10 days
Butterfly – 2 to 4 weeks


Butterflies at Home

University of Florida


Glamorous Moths #2 – White-lined Sphinx

This is the second post in a semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. Today’s inspiration comes from a brief encounter last Friday. I was at an orchard and a White-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata), was getting nectar from plum flowers mid-afternoon.

Hyles lineata visiting Lantana in Phoenix © George Roark

These strong fliers are members of Family Sphingidae – the sphinx, hawk, and hummingbird moths. They are active at dusk (occasionally daytime) and can hover like hummingbirds instead of landing on flowers.

“Hornworm” caterpillar of Hyles lineata © Kevin Faccenda on

This insect has a wide host range. Some of the plants utilized as host plants in the Midwest include apple, evening primrose (Oenothera spp.), four-o’clocks (the common annual Mirabilis jalapa and wild four-o’clock, M. nyctaginea), fuchsia, Gaura lindheimeri, grape, pentas, purslane, tomato, and willow-weed (Epilobium). Other native plants are used elsewhere, such as sand verbena (Abronia umbellate), wishbone plant (Mirabilis californica and other species of Mirabilis), and brown-eyed evening primrose (Camissonia claviformis ssp. piersonii) in the desert Southwest and toothed spurge (Euphorbia dentate) in Texas.


Glamorous Moths #1 – Dalcerides ingenita

This is the first post in a new, semi-regular series of interesting, colorful, and unique moths of Arizona and New Mexico. The first post is inspired by Ronald Parry’s talk I saw on Zoom last week (recording here on Youtube). In the USA, the label “moths” represent over 90% of all Lepidoptera species, but butterflies get most of the attention. We can save the Monarchs and appreciate/support their overlooked “cousins” too!

Dalcerides ingenita caught in Gila National Forest, NM © Ronald Parry

Dalcerides ingenita (no common name yet) is the only species in the moth family Dalceridae that makes it north of the USA-Mexico border. The caterpillars are covered in a gelatinous material to deter parasites and predators. The larval host plants are manzanita and native Emory’s and Blue oaks.

Monarchs Are on Their Way

Monarchs leave their Mexican roosts in the second week of March

For those of us in the South, Monarchs are already creating the 1st generation of the year, moving north from Mexico and laying eggs on milkweed plants. These Monarchs have had an incredible journey in their migration south in the fall, and now they work to create the generation that will recolonize the southern United States.

The Monarchs develop from egg to adult in about 30 days:

  • Eggs hatch in about 4 days. Females lay one egg on a plant; in their lifetime they will lay 100-300 eggs.
  • Caterpillars go through five instars in about 14 days. When they first hatch, caterpillars eat the egg shell for nourishment. Similarly, they eat shed skin after every molt.
  • Chrysalis stage is about 14 days

The overwintering generation lives about eight months due to a biologic change that stops reproductive behavior during their migration south. The summer generations of the butterfly live only three to five weeks.


Monarchwatch Migration and Tagging

Monarchwatch Biology

Great Purple Hairstreak

Family Lycaenida, Gossamer Wing Butterflies – Jewels of the Insect World

Also known as the Great Blue Hairstreak, Atlides halesus is one of the largest gossamer wing butterflies, but it’s solitary and uncommon. The caterpillars feed on mistletoes (Phoradendron spp.) and there are several broods during the year.

The best time to view the Great Purple Hairstreak is whenever Desert Broom or Seep Willow are in bloom, although I just observed on in the backyard enjoying the nectar of Desert Marigold:

Female nectaring on Desert Marigold in March
Male Great Purple Hairstreak (iridescent blue streak on the underside of the front wing)


  • Egg – 4 to 6 days
  • Caterpillar – 3 to 4 weeks
  • Chrysalis – 10 to 20 days
  • Adult – 4 to 10 days

Caterpillars are unremarkable in color (mostly match the mistletoe host) and about 1″ long. The species gains protective toxins from their larval host plants that stay in their system into adulthood. Adult butterflies have their orange and black colorings to signal the protective toxins and even have a behavior of rubbing their wings together. This draws attention to the markings on their back wings that serve as a “false head.”

The larvae pupate in well-protected areas close to the base of the tree, under pieces of bark or fallen leaves.

In the spring, male butterflies compete for the right to occupy the highest point in a territory in order to attract a female.


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: Butterflies

Butterflies at Home


Butterflies and Moths of North America


University of Florida: Featured Critters

Migration Cycle of the Painted Lady

Africa to Europe Migration of 10,000 KM; U.S. from Canada to Mexico

Museu De Ciencies Naturals De Granollers presents a fascinating journey of the Painted Lady butterfly from Subtropical Africa to Morocco. Painted Lady are the most widespread butterfly species in the world, and uniquely, their migrations don’t follow a stringent seasonal pattern.

Ever notice a Painted Lady with faded colors, or how about worn down wings? It’s easy to lose perspective of the amazing journey these butterflies take, spanning multiple generations. Click on the graphic below for a high resolution depiction of the Africa/Europe migration.

The Incredible Migration of the Painted Lady butterfly

Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) have 6-8 generations per year, with the lifecycle of one generation lasting 1-2 months. Adults live for 3-4 weeks.

The butterflies have numerous natural enemies, including birds, and in the case of the caterpillars, parasitizing wasps. Frogs can also be a predator in some regions.

After their long migrations, many butterflies arrive having lost their bright colors and with broken wings.

U.S. Migration (West Coast)

It’s thought that the Painted Lady migratory patterns are affected by heavy rains like El Nino, which can impact the abundance of larval host plants (in Arizona this includes Arizona Thistle, Desert Cotton, Globemallows, Western Betony, Mexican Sunflower Bush, Yarrow and Western Mugwort).

It can take 6 generations for the complete migration from Mexico to Canada and back, a 9,000 mile journey, with a Northwest migratory path in the Spring and sometimes a second migration back southward in Autumn. The butterflies may fly as much as 12 hours per day, using the sun to figure out the direction.

In addition to the normal challenges that Painted Lady butterflies face in their west coast migration, wildfires are presenting additional challenges. Plants that they normally rely on may have been burned, smoke can block out the sun, and in the event of a really large fire that can create its own weather pattern, strong winds.


The Incredible Migration of the Painted Lady (between Africa and Europe)

University of Colorado Boulder, Painted Lady Butterfly

The Washington Post: Weather and wildfires may threaten painted lady butterflies’ migration

Species Spotlight – Sandia Hairstreak and Beargrass

March 13, 2022. New Mexico’s state insect, the Sandia Hairstreak butterfly, is flying again in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque.

RangeCallophrys mcfarlandi was discovered in New Mexico, a state that still encompasses nearly all of its US range. It also occurs in West Texas and south into Mexico. 

Life History. Larvae have a very restricted diet, eating only flowers and developing seeds of Texas and Woodland beargrass (Nolina texana and Nolina greenei). The similar Nolina microcarpa is widespread in New Mexico and Arizona, but it blooms in late in summer, which apparently is a deal-killer.

Left: old flower stalk of Nolina greenei; Right: hillside teeming with Beargrass

The host Beargrass species are not easy to find at nurseries, but this plant grows easily from seed. I bought seed from and they germinated indoors before I transplanted outside in very sunny spots. Another option is to sustainably collect a small number of seeds from wild plants you encounter. They are ripe by mid-summer when the color is coppery. (Warning, they grow slowly, like related Agaves and Yuccas.)

Source for Range and Life History: Butterflies of New Mexico: The Gossamerwings II: The Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae: Theclinae) – Pajarito Environmental Education Center (

Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants

Plant a Park! Your Adventure Awaits 

People go to national parks for adventure, beauty, relaxation, and the sense of wonder of visiting a pristine natural area. Planting a tiny “national park” in your yard can bring those benefits home for you and your family to enjoy year-round. If Americans were to replace only half their lawns with native plants, we could build a 20-million-acre network of habitat!

National Park Service – read full article here.

A great article that echos Doug Tallamy’s Home Grown National Park message (see Elliott’s corresponding blog post here). Includes a case study of One Park Ranger’s Story.

Gardening for Life / Doug Tallamy

Lady beetles need native, pesticide free plants, so their larvae have a supply of aphids available

Chances are, you have never thought of your garden – – indeed, of all of the space on your property – – as a wildlife preserve that represents the last opportunity we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role that built landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future. If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that plants are decorations and our landscapes are for beauty; they are an outlet for expressing our artistic talents and an oasis for having fun and relaxing in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth, our social status, and our willingness to follow cultural norms.

To read more, visit
Lesser Goldfinch perched in native Bigtooth maple

To What Extent Should We Help Pollinators?

We plant natives, we irrigate and then admire the parade of pollinators in our garden. But we’re also enabling predators like assassin bugs, crab spiders and small milkweed bugs.

A shocking number of plants in my garden are homes to predators. It’s painful to observe the latest victims to this insect offense. Should we sit back and let nature takes its course, or intervene and cull the predator population?

Considering that we’re already determining what gets planted where, and providing an unnatural amount of water for our selections, and trimming plants that become too large for the space, does it make sense to trim the predator populations too to further our pollinator agenda?

Every observation in my yard of a Leafhopper Assassin Bug with prey, shows the prey as being a beneficial pollinator, not a pest, although many in the pest category are very small critters that may escape notice. I expect there is scientific observation out there somewhere that would address this question; time will tell!

Please comment below and let us know your perspective and thoughts.

Leafhopper Assassin Bug
Leaf Hopper Assassin Bug Nymph
Small Milkweed Bug and Leafhopper Assassin Bug
Crab Spider

Green Desert – February 28th 2022

We had some winter rain, but then a lengthy dry spell, until just the other day, another .5″ of rain! What does this mean for wildflowers – a reasonable carpet, but most plants have stunted growth. Let’s take a look at the last dat in February…

Teddy Bear Cholla and Saguaro in a green carpet
California Poppies and Coulter’s Lupine
Desert Mistletoe
Blue Dicks
Small Seed Sandmats
Prairie Clover
Gordon’s Bladderpod
Redstem Stork’s Bill
Heliotrope Phacelia
Gordon’s Bladderpod
Smallflower Stalk

Bumblebees of the Southwest

Yesterday, I posted about an opportunity for public participation in a bee and plant survey. Today, I want to share the 5 most common bumblebees in Arizona and New Mexico, according to iNaturalist.

American Bumblebee: Despite being on the verge of the endangered species list, it is the most common to see in our area. Females, especially queens, are large and have the most black bands on their backs of any species here.

Bombus pensylvanicus sharing Common sunflower with Svastra obliqua (longhorn bee) in Albuquerque

Sonoran Bumblebee is a close relative of the American and can be hard to tell apart. You are more likely to see them outside in the low desert around Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Cruces.

Picture © danabutters on

Morrison’s Bumblebee is the third most common of the large, black and yellow bumbles and closely related to the Nevada Bumblebee (6th most common). This species is almost entirely yellow and its conservation status is Vulnerable.

Bombus morrisoni enjoying a Prairie sunflower in author’s garden

Now we get to the smaller, red-belted species. First up is Hunt’s Bumblebee, which “is a striking species, consistently marked with deep colors except in faded individuals.”

Picture © Tom Kennedy on

The Great Basin Bumblebee is number 5 in our area. This species also has yellow hairs on its face, but a different pattern of black, yellow, and red than Hunt’s, with red and black hair bands touching on the abdomen.

Picture © Jessee J. Smith on

Please check out Bumble Bee Watch and Xerces Society for more information.

For more species and identification tips, The Bumble Bees of Colorado is the best guide around.

Ask a Bumblebee

Source:  Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab (BIML) | Facebook

USGS/FWS Native Bee Lab have developed a simple Plant/Bumble Bee Survey that permits anyone to survey what plants Bumble Bees use anywhere there are Bumble Bees (literally). Our goal is to quantify which plants bumble bees use, rank them by that use, and also identify which ones they don’t use. 

We call it “Ask a Bumble Bee.”

How can I get involved? Just email <> 

American Bumblebee, Bombus pensylvanicus


  • You don’t need to identify bumble bee species (though our goal is to get you there)
  • Everything is non-lethal 
  • You only need a cellphone (for taking pictures of plants), pencil, paper
  • You can survey any location where bumble bees occur
  • Your garden, arboretums, parks, plantings, natural areas, refuges, urban, suburban, farm, wilderness, roadsides, and weedy patches are all places we would like you to survey. The richer the plant diversity, the more plants are competing for bumble bees and clearer preference will be.
  • You can survey a site repeatedly throughout the year. 

Basic instructions:

  1. Take a half-hour walk on whatever path you like 
  2. Take notes about all the blooming plants to 10 feet on either side of that path 
  3. Count all the bees along this route and note what flowers are they on 
  4. Take pictures of all the flowering species (so we can check ids later. Note: and apps are great for insect and plant ID.) 
  5. Take pictures of your field sheets and upload all the pictures using your phone (no apps to download!) 
  6. Done (but we want you to do more than one really) 

Meet the plants: Beardtongues

Beardtongues (or Penstemon, the scientific name of the genus) are blooming again in Arizona. With over 50 wild species in Arizona and New Mexico (and more than 270 total), there’s a lot of options for our gardens. We hope you’ll pick up a few of these plants when visiting your local, native plant nursery this spring!

Perhaps, you will enjoy tall, sweet-smelling blooms of Palmer’s?

How about the hummingbird magnet, Scarlet Bugler?

The lovely, purple hues of Rocky Mountain?

Or the hot pink, Northern Arizona endemic, Sunset Crater?

Keystone Plants, and the Plants Beneath (Soft Landing)

Similar to permaculture principles where you layer the plants for a forest garden, having ground covers, plants and leaf litter under keystone tree species amplifies benefits for the ecosystem.

Learn More: 1 2 3

Arizona Keystone Trees

  • Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
  • Oaks (Quercus spp)
    • Arizona White Oak (Quercus arizonica)
    • Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis)
    • Belota (Quercus emoryi)
    • Gambel’s Oak (Quercus gambellii)
    • Gray Oak (Quercus grisea)
    • Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides)
    • Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
    • Mexican Blue Oak (Quercus oblongifolia)
    • Dunn’s Oak (Quercus Palmeri)
    • Sandpaper Oak (Quercus pungens)
    • Netleaf Oak (Quercus rugosa)
    • Toumey Oak (Quercus toumeyi)
    • Scrub Oak (Quercus turbinella)
  • Pines (Pinus spp)
    • Arizona Pine (Pinus arizonica)
    • Border Pinon (Pinus cembroides)
    • Pinon Pine (Pinus edulis)
    • Apache Pine (Pinus engelmanii)
    • Chihuahua Pine (Pinus leiophylla var. chihuanuana)
    • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum)
    • Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis)
  • Willows (Salix spp)
    • Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides)
    • Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis)
  • Aspen
  • Cottonwood
  • Poplar