Thank You

Thanksgiving (the holiday) is tomorrow, but I didn’t want to wait to express a quick, but heartfelt, THANK YOU to all of you who read this little blog.  When I started this project about four years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect.  Today, we are closing in on 2,000 subscribers, and the rate of new subscribers is not slowing.  Many other people don’t subscribe, but read the blog regularly, and still others stumble upon it periodically, looking for a photo of or information on a prairie species or issue.  The site averages about 15,000 views a month (from all around the world) and that doesn’t count many subscribers who just read each post directly from their email.  Can you believe that many people are interested in prairies??  Wow.

I get immense gratification from writing this blog, largely because it helps me keep learning.  I learn as I prepare and write posts, and I learn even more from you through your responses to them.  Most importantly, just knowing that I have to keep coming up with new blog post ideas keeps me energized and inquisitive, and for that I am truly grateful.

So – to those of you in the United States, have a fantastic Thanksgiving, and to all of you…

Thank you

 

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Hubbard Fellowship Blog – The Amazing Burying Beetle

This post was written by Dillon Blankenship, one of our current Hubbard Fellows.  All photos are by Dillon.

Back in September I had an interesting experience while sweeping out the shop. With a dustpan full of grass and dirt, I stepped out to the driveway and spotted a black and orange beetle scurrying across the rocks. As an insect fanatic working in the Plains, my first thought was “ABB! AMERICAN BURYING BEETLE! Nicrophorus americanus!” – the endangered carrion beetle I had been hoping to come across for the last half-decade or so. Elated, I carefully directed it into a jar for closer inspection and called Chris to see if we had ever recorded ABB at our sites on the Platte. He informed me we had not, so I took the jar and ran to my house to get an insect identification guide. On the other side of the phone, Chris opened his computer and we began teasing out the distinguishing characteristics of the American burying beetle from the other fifteen or so carrion beetle species in Nebraska.

The burying beetle Dillon found...  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The burying beetle Dillon found… The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

We started with the orange bands on its back (did they go all the way across or did they stop at the midpoint of the wings?). Were the bands zigzagged or straight? How big was it? What did the antenna look like it? How about the pronotum – okay, we probably called it “the plate behind its head” – was it red or black? The final question was the best indicator. The pronotum – the top side of the first segment from the head (the prothorax) with the first pair of legs – of the beetle I had found was entirely black. The American burying beetle’s pronotum is reddish-orange.

The creature I found was not an American burying beetle, but it was still interesting. First of all, carrion beetles (also called burying beetles) are a family of beetles (silphidae) that are characterized by their feeding, mating, and rearing of young in the carcasses of dead animals. There are at least forty-six species in North America. They seem to have a keen sense of smell so they can track down a recently deceased critter – like a mouse or a bird – and claim it as their own. Males and females find each other at the site and the most dominant mating pair battles off other individuals as they bury their prize. Flies are perhaps the greatest competition for the corpse, as they will lay eggs that become maggots and cause some beetle species to abandon the resource. Some silphid species just eat the maggots too. Beetle eggs are laid and, after hatching, feed on the carrion up to pupation and into adulthood where they will disperse and continue the cycle of reproduction. Some carrion beetles exhibit a high level of parental care, staying with their young to protect and feed them – an uncommon trait in the insect world.

The underside of the beetle was covered in tiny mites.  It turns out they are not harming the beetle at all, but just hitching a ride to their food source.

The underside of the beetle was covered in tiny mites. It turns out they are not harming the beetle at all, but just hitching a ride to their food source.

As I examined the specimen I had discovered, I was horrified by the large number of little mites crawling around on it. The mites congregated on its underside and I imagined they were an uncomfortable burden. HOWEVER, I read that these types of mites are found on almost all burying beetles. They are phoretic, meaning they travel with and do not necessarily harm the beetle itself. Bumblebees are also commonly found with little mites hitching rides. The beetle mites are said to be in the genus Poecilochirus and are mutualistic (beneficial, not parasitic) with the burying beetles insofar as they “hop off” the beetle and onto the carrion to feast on the fly eggs and larvae that would otherwise compete with the beetles’ brood. Teamwork!

Perhaps the most relevant part of this for humans is that the burying beetles help keep our prairies clean! As part of the biotic decomposition network of fungi, bacteria, flies and other beetles, they return the nutrients of dead organisms back to the soil. Thank you, burying beetles.

Here's the beetle after it was released.  (No beetles were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Here’s the beetle after it was released. (No beetles were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Though I didn’t find an American burying beetle, I DID find a close relative. I am calling it a margined burying beetle (Nicrophorus marginatus) until somebody more taxonomically inclined corrects me. It was a great adventure trying to figure out who my beetle was and it seemed no worse for the journey when I returned it to the prairie.

Posted in Hubbard Fellowship, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Photo of the Week – November 20, 2014

It’s been a cold week, though we’re finally starting to warm up again.  As a way to feel a little less chilly, I went back through some photos from the summer and found these three shots from late August.  All three show indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) in a small prairie here in Aurora, Nebraska.  It’s a distinctive and attractive grass, especially when it’s in full bloom.  Enjoy!

Indiangrass in flower.  Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Indiangrass in flower. Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

More of the same, but from a little further away.

A similar shot of a different plant, but from a little further away.

This hover fly (aka syrphid fly or flower fly) was taking advantage of the pollen on indiangrass.  While grasses are wind pollinated, flies and bees are often seen feeding on them as well (including corn plants).

This hover fly (aka syrphid fly or flower fly) was taking advantage of the pollen on indiangrass. While grasses are wind pollinated, that doesn’t mean flies and bees can’t feed on them as well (which has led to some negative impacts on bees from pest control strategies in corn fields – since corn is just a big grass).

 

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Making Smart Assumptions about Prairie Management

Some people say it’s dangerous to make assumptions.  I disagree.  In fact, assumptions are both necessary and empowering.  Land managers make assumptions all the time.  If we didn’t, we’d never get anything done.

Assumptions are only dangerous when they are either unrecognized or untested.  For example, it’s reasonable for me to assume that my car’s engine has an adequate amount of oil in it, but it would be irresponsible not to check the level now and then to be sure.  Without the assumption that I still had oil, I’d probably stop to check my oil every mile or so and I’d never get anywhere.  In order to move forward, I have to make reasonable assumptions, including that my engine hasn’t lost all of its oil since the last time I checked it.

As land managers, we have to take a similar approach.  Much of the time, we assume that species and ecological systems are reacting predictably and positively to our management, but we also do spot checks to reassure ourselves.  Often those evaluations involve nothing more than a walk through a prairie to see how things are looking, but in some cases might conduct more intensive data collection.

Sometimes rigorous data collection is used to test assumptions, but other times the process can be much more informal.

Sometimes rigorous data collection is used to test assumptions, but other times the process can be much more informal.

Land managers also make broader assumptions about how restoration or management projects will contribute to conservation objectives.  As we plan projects, we make educated guesses that help us design our work effectively.  Then we implement the project and see what happens.  If we didn’t make assumptions, we’d be paralyzed by indecision and never get anything done.

It is critically important, however to recognize what assumptions we’re making, and to test them when we have the chance.  Here are several examples of assumptions we make in our Platte River Prairies management, and some of the ways we’re testing them.

Assumption #1.  Prairie plants can survive periodic intensive grazing.

Grazing is an important part of our management.  Most commonly, we employ variations of patch-burn grazing, in which a portion of a prairie is grazed pretty intensively for most of one growing season and then allowed to recover for a couple years before it’s intensively grazed again.  We use grazing to manipulate plant competition, especially by suppressing the vigor of dominant grasses to produce more plant diversity.  It also is our primary tool for creating heterogeneous habitat structure, including important habitat conditions (such as short grass/tall forbs) that are difficult or impossible to create without grazing.

Selective grazing by cattle can have positive impacts on both plant diversity and wildlife habitat.  These cattle at Konza Prairie in Kansas are grazing on primarily grass and leaving plants such as leadplant and purple prairie clover ungrazed.

Selective grazing by cattle can have positive impacts on both plant diversity and wildlife habitat. These cattle at Konza Prairie in Kansas are grazing on primarily grass and leaving plants such as leadplant and purple prairie clover ungrazed.

Our data show that overall plant diversity is thriving under our management, and it’s easy to see the variety of habitat conditions we create each year.  However, we’re making the assumption that we’re not losing any plant species due to periodic intensive grazing.  It’s an informed assumption, based on experience and our understanding of history, including the kind of fire/grazing interactions that happened in these prairies over the last several thousand years.  Regardless, it’s an assumption, and one we need to test.

We collect annual data from some prairies and less frequent data from others that allow us to track individual plant species over time.  So far, we’ve not seen any indication of plant species that are disappearing under our management.  Even if we weren’t rigorously collecting data, we could still test our assumption by simply tracking the population size of species most likely to be impacted by grazing.  We could use techniques such as photopoints or walking transects, or we could just mark and watch individuals or patches of plants over time.

Data

An example of the kind of data that helps us evaluate the impacts of repetitive grazing on plant species.  Data from one of our restored prairies shows plant species that have maintained populations through 13 years of patch-burn grazing.  The data represent the frequency of occurrence for each species within approximately 100 plots (1 square meter plots).  From top to bottom, the common names of the species shown are Stiff Sunflower, Maximilian Sunflower, Illinois Bundleflower, Purple Prairie Clover, and White Prairie Clover.

Assumption #2.  Some exotic/invasive species are not harmful enough to warrant eradication efforts.

We have more than enough invasive species to deal with on our sites, so we have to be selective about which to spend most of our time on.  We set priorities based on experience, and focus most on those species we think have the greatest potential to harm plant diversity or habitat quality.  However, we recognize that our assumptions about impacts could be wrong, so we test them – both through general observation and data collection.  I’ve written before about data we’ve collected on both Kentucky bluegrass and sweetclover impacts, for example.

Assumption #3.  Restoring cropland adjacent to a small prairie will increase its conservation value.

The prairie restoration work we do is not focused on re-creating historic landscapes, but on trying to decrease the impacts of habitat fragmentation.  We assume that adding diverse prairie plantings around and between isolated prairie fragments will increase population size and connectivity for plants, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, and more.  Bigger and more interconnected populations should be more viable than smaller and isolated populations.

Our assumption seems reasonable, but it’s expensive to harvest and plant more than 200 plant species in a crop field, so we need to see if we’re actually achieving our objective.  More importantly, we need to be able to show policy makers that this kind of strategy produces substantial ecological impacts.  Unfortunately, this kind of assumption is logistically difficult to test.

We have a long way to go, but we’re starting to look at whether various species living in our unplowed prairies are also found in adjacent restored prairies.  If those species aren’t using the new habitat, our strategy isn’t helping them.  If they are, that’s good to know – though there are still more assumptions to test (e.g., do those new habitats facilitate successful breeding and/or migration and colonization?).  So far, some preliminary investigations indicate that most ant and bee species appear to use restored habitats, and we’re now looking at small mammals and grasshoppers as well.

ENPO130528_D023

Bees seem to readily use the restored prairie habitats we create around and between formerly-isolated prairies. However, we are still evaluating bees and many other species to see how effective our restoration work has been.

 

Assumption #4.  We can maintain healthy populations of all prairie species through our “shifting mosaic” approach to wildlife habitat management.

This is a big one, and is very difficult to test.  We assume that by creating a variety of habitat conditions each year – including tall/dense, short/sparse, and mixed-height vegetation – all of the species in our prairies (insects, mammals, birds, plants, etc.) can find what they need each year.  On top of that, we’re assuming that as we shift the location of habitat conditions between years, species can either move to appropriate habitat or hunker down until better conditions cycle back through.

As with our assumption about plants and grazing, historical context applies.  Prairie species evolved in grasslands that were subjected to fire, grazing, and drought, and preferred habitat conditions for any particular species would have shifted around the landscape from year to year.  However, much is different today, including the size and fragmentation of grasslands, the presence of invasive species, and much more.  Are today’s species able to survive significant variations in habitat conditions from year to year?  Can a species that needs thatchy cover successfully find more of that habitat after a fire burns through its current location?  If so, how far can it travel, and through what kinds of habitats?

Red

How easily can a species such as the red-sided garter snake find new habitat after a fire or other management treatment makes its current habitat unsuitable?

We haven’t gotten as far in testing this assumption as we have with some others, but we think a lot about it.  We’ve been gleaning information on animal movement from the scientific literature, and will meet with university scientists next month to discuss potential collaborative research on this topic.  Most importantly, we recognize that we are making some big assumptions about our management strategies, and we keep those assumptions in mind as we make our annual plans.  For example, we try to think about factors such as travel distance between similar habitat types (tall/dense or short/sparse habitats, for example) and we try to leave unburned refuges within large burn units.  Hopefully, we’ll get more guidance soon, but in the meantime, we’re moving forward the best we can.

Just as I watch for signs that my car’s engine might be getting low on oil as I drive, I also watch for signs that our land management strategies are working as we want them to.  (More on that in an upcoming post.)  Recognizing the assumptions we’re making is a critical piece of successful management, but testing those assumptions is just as important.  Assumption testing doesn’t have to involve intensive data collection; it can be as simple as making some annual notes about whether or not a particular patch of wildflowers is still there, or keeping track of how invasive species respond to various management treatments.  If we know what we’re uncertain of, we’ll be more thoughtful about management decisions and more observant of their impacts.

What assumptions are you making?  Are you working to test them?

…oh, and don’t forget to check your oil now and then.

 

 

 

Posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Photo of the Week – November 14, 2014

The praying mantis is an impressive predator, especially when it’s a Chinese mantis the length of a ball point pen.  The ones who live around here seem to have a particular affinity for sphinx moths.  I haven’t yet watched the capture take place, but I’ve seen the mantises (mantes? mantids? critters?) devouring their fuzzy prey several times, including one I photographed last year.  Almost exactly a year later, I took the following photos at the same prairie.

A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth.  Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.

A Chinese mantis feeding on a sphinx moth. Lincoln Creek Prairie; Aurora, Nebraska.

You can see from the photo how well this mantis can hide – it is exactly the same color as the pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) plant it was hunting on, and its shape and texture blend in perfectly.  Other mantis species around the world have even more sophisticated camouflage, which almost seems unfair.

ENPO140828_D056

ENPO140828_D057

After watching the mantis for a little while, I decided to try out the video function on my camera.  I’ve been trying to do a little more video work lately anyway.  If you’ve always wanted to see watch a mantis eat up close – and who wouldn’t want to?? – here’s your chance.  The barking in the background is from the dogs in the nearby animal shelter who were apparently excited to watch a prairie ecologist take video of a praying mantis…

My favorite shot of the day was this last one.  There is sure a lot of personality in a mantis face…

"Just trying to eat here... do you mind?"

“Just trying to eat here… do you mind?”

Chinese mantises are, of course, not native to the U.S., but as far as I can tell from bug-smart friends, don’t seem to be having any major negative impacts (neither are they providing the kind of “pest control” they are often introduced to provide).  Some introduced species have certainly become major ecological disasters, but it seems the Chinese mantis is just a new predator for prairie insects to watch out for, and for prairie enthusiasts to enjoy watching.

(Now would be the appropriate time for entomologically-savvy readers to correct my ignorance on the topic of the Chinese mantis and its impacts.  Please do.)

Posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What’s This Flower? (Advanced Edition) November 11, 2014

Ok, I knew it wouldn’t take long to get a correct answer on the first plant quiz this morning, but four correct answers within two minutes of posting?  Good grief.

Apparently, that one was too easy for many of you, so I’ll try again.  I’m sure some readers will get this one too, but maybe I can challenge at least a few of you.

Ok, what’s THIS flower?

ENPO130730_D011

Once again, leave your guesses in the comments section below.  If you don’t see a comments section, click on the title of this post to open it in a web browser and try again.

No hints this time, but I’ll confirm the correct answer when it comes in (within the comments section).

If you didn’t know the answer to the first quiz this morning, you can look in the comments section of that post to see the answer.

 

Posted in Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments

What’s This Flower? November 11, 2014

The temperatures dove into the low teens last night, and I had to be cautious of numerous icy patches along the highway this morning.  I found myself feeling reminiscent of summer wildflowers, and thought maybe you would be too.

So – here’s a photo of a wildflower, taken on August 30, 2014 along the Central Platte River in Nebraska.  Can you name it?  I’ll give you a couple hints in the comments section below, and then after someone guesses correctly (and they will – a number of botanists follow this blog) I’ll confirm their answer in the comments section as well.

ENPO140830_D006

 

If you want to guess, but don’t see a comments section, click on the title of this post to open it in your web browser – then you can scroll to the bottom of the post to find the comments.

 

Posted in Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Photo of the Week – November 7, 2014

It’s been a busy week, capped off by two days helping staff and volunteers with a bison roundup at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.  The bison in the Preserve’s two herds are pretty much left alone all year except for one annual roundup.  Those roundups allow staff to sort off animals to be sold, innoculate calves that will be kept, and get a (fairly) accurate count of the herd.  Yesterday was the main event, during which animals were herded into the corrals and run through a series of gates, alleys, and pens.  Most of the animals were in and out of the corral within about 5 hours.  The veterinarian will be here today to help process the rest.

Despite best efforts, the roundup – while important – is a little stressful for both bison and staff, so both parties are glad to see it end.  As groups of animals are released to join their peers back in the hills, their excitement is palpable.  The photo below captures one of those moments.

Heading home...

Heading home…

Within a few minutes of their release, the bison were back to grazing – apparently peacefully – out in the hills.  Life goes on…

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Hubbard Fellowship Post – Grasshopper Mice

This post was written by Jasmine Cutter, one of our Hubbard Fellows.  Jasmine has written earlier about her independent research project looking at small mammals (or s’mammals, as she calls them) in our Platte River Prairies.  All photos are by Jasmine unless otherwise credited.

S’mammal Spotlight: the Fearsome Northern Grasshopper Mouse

While I finish up the data entry for my independent project on small mammals, I thought it’d be fun to share some more information about some of the s’mammals out in our prairies. Some of them are really, especially awesome, and hopefully knowing a little more about them will elucidate why we think they’re worth studying!

The northern grasshopper mouse.  Note the big eyes and ears.

The northern grasshopper mouse.  See the note at the end of this post about how this photo was taken.

I thought I’d kick off this series with one of my favorites, the northern grasshopper mouse (Onychomys leucogaster). There is no other way to describe this critter except beefy. This is a mouse made for fighting, for pouncing, for striking fear in the hearts of the other lil s’mammals (I haven’t obtained any critter statements about the last part, but if I was pocket mouse-sized, I’d be wary). They are a handful to work with – very aggressive, and surprisingly agile. They’re able to shrink out of pretty much any corner I try to limit them to, and their pointy carnivorous teeth ensure that I am very aware of the distance between my fingers and their mouth!

If you’re wondering if you’ve seen one, northern grasshopper mice have big eyes, big ears, and relatively short tails that are consistently about 42 mm long (Mike and I measured many grasshopper mouse tails). The majority of them are silky gray-brown on top and white below, though there are a few whose backs are more cinnamon-y than gray. Juveniles tend to be lighter colored. Most of the grasshopper mice I caught were approximately the size of my fist, maybe a little smaller, about 33-45g (for reference, pocket mice are generally 8-12 grams).

cute lil grey guy. I would guess this one is on the younger side of things. Its fur has some of that downy, juvenile look to it. [good ones for the disclaimer? When I open a trap, I gently plop the critter into a bag in order to minimize handling exposure. I can weigh, identify and sex the critter while it’s in the bag. It’s safer for me, and the animal is only in there for a few seconds to a minute.

Cute lil grey guy. I would guess this one is on the younger side of things. Its fur has some of that downy, juvenile look to it. DISCLAIMER: When I open a trap, I gently plop the critter into a bag in order to minimize handling exposure. I can weigh, identify and sex the critter while it’s in the bag. It’s safer for me, and the animal is only in there for a few seconds to a minute.

This is one of more cinnamon-y colored ones.

This is one of more cinnamon-y colored ones.

The impressive muscle mass of a northern grasshopper mouse is achieved by a largely carnivorous diet. True to their name, grasshopper mice consume a lot of grasshoppers, as well as other insects, and sometimes other mice, including others of their species. Allegedly, grasshopper mice stalk their prey and will emit a shrill cry before attacking. It is thought that they tend to have a longer period of maternal care than most mice (which isn’t saying much) so that young grasshopper mice can be taught to hunt. Ideally, I’d like to camp out by their burrows in the spring so that I can hear them sing and see their fearsome predatory skills in action.

This is probably one of the youngest-looking grasshopper mice I found. It is fairly small, its fur is still more downy than silky, and its head/eyes to body ratio makes me think it's pretty young. Also it wasn't very good at being elusive or aggressive compared to most, so hopefully mom is still giving it some lessons! [The clip on its tail is attached to my mouse scale. While it is undoubtedly a little uncomfortable, there is no permanent damage. Using the clip means I am touching them less, and speeds up the photo taking process so they can be released faster!]  This is probably one of the youngest-looking grasshopper mice I found. It is fairly small, its fur is still more downy than silky, and its head/eyes to body ratio makes me think it's pretty young. Also it wasn't very good at being elusive or aggressive compared to most, so hopefully mom is still giving it some lessons! [The clip on its tail is attached to my mouse scale. While it is undoubtedly a little uncomfortable, there is no permanent damage. Using the clip means I am touching them less, and speeds up the photo taking process so they can be released faster!]

This is probably one of the youngest-looking grasshopper mice I found. It is fairly small, its fur is still more downy than silky, and its head/eyes to body ratio makes me think it’s pretty young. Also it wasn’t very good at being elusive or aggressive compared to most, so hopefully mom is still giving it some lessons! [The clip on its tail is attached to my mouse scale. While it is undoubtedly a little uncomfortable, there is no permanent damage. Using the clip means I am touching them less, and speeds up the photo taking process so they can be released faster!]

 

The underside of a grasshopper mouse. If you look closely, there's a faint orange circle on this one's chest, suggesting that I marked it on a previous week's transect.

The underside of a grasshopper mouse. If you look closely, there’s a faint orange circle on this one’s chest, suggesting that I marked it on a previous week’s transect.

If you’re looking for a northern grasshopper mouse, you are mostly likely to find them in sandy soils. They seem to prefer sandy areas that had sparser and often shorter vegetation. Apparently the sandhills portion of our Platte River Prairies are ideal habitat because they are loaded with northern grasshopper mice. It is exciting that we have such a robust population, especially because it gives us a chance to learn more about them.

The sandhills area of the Platte River Prairies - habitat of the northern grasshopper mouse.  Can you spot the flag marking a trap location?

The sandhills portion of the Platte River Prairies – habitat of the northern grasshopper mouse.

Learning more about their habits will not only aid in our management of our prairie, but could potentially help fill some gaps in the broader scientific literature. While the life histories of some small mammals are pretty well understood, it seems to me that there is some updating to do in terms of the natural history descriptions of northern grasshopper mice. For example, most natural history sources will tell you that the northern grasshopper mouse is very territorial and will fight to the death any other grasshopper mouse that wander into its territory. However, Mike and I have been catching several northern grasshopper mice within 10-14 meters of each other. This seems like a much higher density than one would expect for a highly territorial species, especially one that is known to have a fairly large home range in relation to its size.

Greg Wright, a wildlife biologist at the Crane Trust says he’s seen reports that grasshopper mice might hunt as family units, which could explain the densities we were catching. [It will be intriguing to see if our data supports that idea]. It could also be that northern grasshopper mice are only especially territorial during the mating season? A small study in Colorado found that several individuals shared a burrow in the winter.

I think these critters have a compelling story, and I look forward to our future studies and new research questions so that we can expand our understanding of the awesome, fierce northern grasshopper mouse.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Can you spot Chris' black camera? You may think that Chris spends a lot of time wander through prairies flipping over leaves, but really, the majority of his photos are staged in a cardboard box... This is a behind-the-scenes look at the photo assistant setup during our first field day, when Mike and I brought a grasshopper mouse to show people before we released it. Can you spot Chris' black camera? You may think that Chris spends a lot of time wander through prairies flipping over leaves, but really, the majority of his photos are staged in a cardboard box... This is a behind-the-scenes look at the photo assistant setup during our first field day, when Mike and I brought a grasshopper mouse to show people before we released it.

Can you spot Chris’ black camera? You may think that Chris spends a lot of time wandering through prairies flipping over leaves, but really, the majority of his photos are staged in a cardboard box… This is a behind-the-scenes look at his photo setup during our first field day, when Mike and I brought a grasshopper mouse to show people before we released it.  The result was the first photo used in this post.

Editor’s Note:  Ok, two things, gigglepants.  First, have YOU ever tried to take a photo of a grasshopper mouse in the wild?  Exactly.  They don’t tend to sit still and pose, do they?   Second, I have not hidden my photo techniques in the past, and on the rare occasion when I use something like a cardboard box to get a photo that would be otherwise impossible, I try to be transparent about it.  Many readers will remember my very serious technical piece on how to use a wheelbarrow as a photo studio, for example.  At least I don’t use something silly like a plastic bag…  : )

Jasmine’s favorite s’mammal information sources:

University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web. This site has photos, skeletons/skulls, life history information, range, and usually some tidbits from recent studies.   http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/

Mammals of Kansas
Clearly, most of the range information is specific to Kansas. But has good pictures, good descriptions (lengths, weights, color), and succinct life history information.
http://kufs.ku.edu/libres/Mammals_of_Kansas/list.html.

The Colorado paper I mentioned:
Size and Habitat Characteristics of Home Ranges of Northern Grasshopper Mice (Onychomys Leucogaster). Paul Stapp. The Southwestern Naturalist, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 101-105

Posted in Hubbard Fellowship, Prairie Animals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Photo of the Week – October 30, 2014

I’ve always had a difficult time taking pleasing landscape photos in heavy fog.  I love the way prairies and wetlands look on foggy days, but I rarely come away with a scenic photo I’m happy with.  Fortunately, I can (and usually do) fall back on close-up photos…

Water droplets, gerardia and spider silk on a very foggy morning at a Platte River Prairies wetland last week.

Water droplets, false foxglove and spider silk on a very foggy morning.

One foggy morning last week, I waded into the shallow water of a wetland at our Platte River Prairies.  Everything was dripping wet because of the dense fog.  There was a light breeze, but not quite enough to blow the droplets off the plants or spider silk strands.

More gerardia in the fog.

More false foxglove in the fog.

Fog creates a “flat” light.  Flat light can be used for scenic photos, but it’s difficult to portray depth and texture because of the lack of any shadows.  However, that same light can work pretty well for close-ups, especially as the fog thins a little and the ambient light becomes a little brighter.

Droplets on a late-blooming plains coreopsis.

Droplets on a late-blooming plains coreopsis.

There were several patches of sand lovegrass along the sandy edge of the wetland last week.  The plants were bent almost to the ground under the weight of water drops.  Hidden among the sparkles was a cold wet grasshopper…

A grasshopper on a water-bejeweled sand lovegrass flower.

A grasshopper on a water-bejeweled sand lovegrass flower.

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Sand lovegrass close-up.

Sand lovegrass close-up.

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Sand lovegrass closer up.

Sand lovegrass closer up.

As the fog started to dissipate, the sun popped out periodically, providing a few opportunities for some landscape photos, but by then I was too intent on the little drops of water to pay much attention to the bigger picture.  I did take a few photos of the wetland, but quickly put the wide angle lens back away in favor of my macro lens.

Here's what the wetland looked like as the fog started to lift.

Here’s what the wetland looked like as the fog started to lift…

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Water droplets on spider silk.

…but it was the close-ups that continued to catch my eye.  Water droplets on the tip of a grass leaf and spider silk.

 

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