Photo of the Week – July 9, 2015

Upright yellow coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), aka Mexican hat, is blooming all over the Platte River Prairies right now.  As with most showy flowers, the coneflowers are crawling with insects of many kinds.  I spent a fun half hour (31 minutes, to be exact) last week, trying to photograph as many of those insects as I could before I had to pop into our field headquarters for a meeting.

Bee on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Sweat bee (Halictus ligatus, I think) on upright prairie coneflower. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Bee and beetle on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

The same sweat bee species on a different flower, this time joined by a small brown beetle.

Bee on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

A different bee with the antennae of another insect beneath it.

Hover fly (Syrphid) on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

It took me a while to finally capture an image of one of these syrphid flies (hover flies).  They were a lot more skittish than the bees.

Long-horned beetle on upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Long-horned beetle feeding on pollen.

I wrote about long-horned beetles last summer after photographing them on the same flower species.  I think this one is Typocerus confluens, but I’m just guessing based on photos from last year.  You might remember from last year that adult long-horned beetles feed on flowers, but larvae are wood borers or subterranean root feeders.

Katydid nymph on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

A tiny katydid nymph.

Tree cricket nymph on upright prairie coneflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

A tree cricket nymph.

As is always the case in prairies (and nature in general), the closer you look, the more you see.  The number of insect species feeding on this one flower (and, in some cases, pollinating it) is a great example of the complexity of life found in prairies.  Complexity leads to resilience because there are multiple species that can play fill similar roles.  If one species has a bad year, others will fill in for it.  That redundancy helps keep all systems functioning all the time.

Hurray for complexity!

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
This entry was posted in Prairie Animals, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Photo of the Week – July 9, 2015

  1. kocart says:

    I love your blog, and you make me want to dust off an old macro lens to peer at the tiny things in the neighborhood. You do a superb job.

    On another note, can you do a post or explain why Dickcissels show up some years and not others to the Nebraska countryside? They are everywhere in eastern Nebraska this year, and the last time I remember seeing them was quite a few years ago. What gives? Is it a good year/bad year thing, like the insects?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Interesting. I haven’t ever noticed dickcissels being cyclical in population. I seem them pretty consistently year to year around here. However, their local nesting is driven by habitat conditions – they like tall vegetation with lots of broadleaf plants. If they can’t find their preferred nesting habitat, they’ll move on. I wonder if something is different about habitat this year in your area? We are actually working with some researchers from UNO this summer who are putting radio transmitters on dickcissels before they leave for migration to see if they come back to the same places next year. It should be very interesting!

      • kocart says:

        I was under the impression that their ranges varied from year to year along the fringes. I know I searched in vain for them after a particularly prolific year, and they didn’t come back for quite awhile. We must be on the edge of their range.

        • Chris Helzer says:

          Coincidentally, someone else mentioned the other day that they’d heard it was a particularly good year for dickcissels… I’ll check in with a friend who studies them and see what I can learn.

  2. Aggie says:

    Are all of these functioning as pollinators?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      The bees are certainly pollinating. The beetles, tree cricket, and katydid are mostly just eating free pollen and flower parts without providing any service. The hover fly is kind of in the middle. It’s not as effective as the bees but less damaging to the flower than the others.

      • I would suggest the beetles at least also provide pollination services. The body of the longhorned beetle (yes, it is Typocerus confluens) is even quite “hairy” on the pronotum and ventral thorax and abdomen, which, if not purposely designed for pollination (but maybe it is), certainly does function in such to a certain extent.

        As always, lovely photos!

      • Aggie says:

        Thank you for teaching me, Chris!

  3. marilyn says:

    what an amazing world! Great photos!

  4. Bill Kleiman says:

    Nice post. A good use of 31 minutes.

  5. Kim says:

    the green bee is especially pretty

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