Biology Challenge

IMG_2417Here’s a cool but complex ecological interaction directly involving at least three species going on in my backyard. (Olathe, KS)

We’ve had a mostly cool and wet spring to date.  The plant involved is about 0.6 m tall at this point and there is a large flower bud within these leaves.  For this challenge, let’s start with the names of the species involved (at least to genus) followed by a description of the interactions involved.  Turns out there is a great site on the web that has this all documented with photos and scientific papers.  Maybe you can find that.  Part of the reason I put this challenge here is to hopefully inspire biology teachers into thinking just what they and their students might be able to investigate with just a small butterfly garden.  Another image:


btw, I’m putting this challenge up on the KABT BioBlog at the same time—I want to see who figures this out first–the KABTer’s or the NABTer’s……challenge on.


  • kfoglia says:

    OOOH, ooooh, pick me, pick me!!

    We’ve got a 3 way relationship here between:
    * milkweed — Asclepias sp.
    * aphids — Aphis sp. (nerii?) Oleander aphids?
    * ants — Formica sp.

    Great examples of coevolution and mutualism

    1. The milkweed produces secondary metabolites (cardiac glycosides) to deter herbivorous predators.
    2. The aphids are sucking plant fluids from phloem, but packaging up the toxic glycosides from the milkweed just like monarchs do. By the way, they are colored yellow as an example of Mullerian mimicry — warning signal that they are toxic.
    3. The ants are tending and milking the aphids to collect their honeydew, siphoning off some of those plant sugars.


    My milkweed is just leafing out so we are behind you a few weeks.
    I will have to watch and take photographs as well.

    BTW, couldn’t find the site you referred to.

  • Brad Williamson says:

    Nicely done but I think you’ll want to look over the ants a bit more—check out those gasters in the top ants in the top image…..that’s a hint.

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