Photo of the Week – September 29, 2017

As the growing season comes to an end and most wildflowers wind up their blooming period, insects that feed on nectar and pollen have to work a lot harder to find food.  The few remaining plants with active flowers suddenly become really popular.  In this part of Nebraska, those last remaining wildflowers include species like tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), heath aster (Aster ericoides), and New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), among others.  The other day, I spotted a lone New England aster plant being mobbed by hungry insects.  Here are some photos…


Over the five minutes or more that I watched the horde of insects on this plant, I saw the same individual blossoms get worked over multiple times by multiple insects.  After all that activity, I can’t imagine any of those insects were really getting much of anything out of those flowers, but they were certainly trying…

Painted lady butterflies are still pretty abundant, but not nearly as abundant as they were a year ago.

How many insects can you find on the photo below?  I can find four painted lady butterflies, a skipper butterfly, three different bees, and a tree cricket.  Not pictured are a couple of grasshoppers and a few other bees that were just below the field of view.

How many insects can you see?  Click on the photo to see a larger version of the image.

I assume the remaining painted lady butterflies will migrate soon, but most of the other pollen and nectar-eating insects around here don’t have anywhere to go.  Some will simply die with the flowering season, but others will spend the winter in a state of dormancy and re-emerge in the spring.  I sometimes use the analogy of watering holes in Africa when talking about flowers and pollinators.  In this case, the analogy seems particularly apt as the last “watering holes” are drying up and the animals relying on them are highly concentrated.  I was surprised not to see any “crocodiles” (e.g., crab spiders) at this particular watering hole, taking advantage of an increasingly desperate prey base.

I appreciate living in a temperate zone where I can enjoy a nice variety of seasons through the year, but I’ll certainly miss seeing (and photographing) flowers and insects over the winter.  It’s hard to focus on indoor work these days, knowing that my opportunities to see those flowers and insects this season are dwindling fast…

This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

6 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – September 29, 2017

  1. Chris, the first shot is just magnificent! That’s called being prepared and at the right place at the right moment. I really do enjoy your photos and sense of humor in the blog. Thanks, Ernie

  2. Hi, Chris!

    I follow your blog and thought you might have an opinion about an unusual variant painted lady butterfly that has been hanging around a Lincoln residence (Sue Dawson) for more than a week. It is a beauty, but I can find no reference for such a ‘morph’ for this species…. Care to offer an opinion?

    Pete Smith 402-580-8138

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Chris, I’ve been enjoying your blog/photography for a year now. What a great thing you are doing, sharing with us your exploration and appreciation of prairie, its plants and creatures. To answer one of your questions in this post, looking at the third image I think I spy five painted lady butterflies among the bees, etc. Since August we had clouds/crowds/hoards (not sure of the word to use) of Vanessa cardui nectaring in our yard this year on the New England asters up to this past Sunday. The weather has turned cooler (today rainy) here in Omaha and hopefully the butterflies are getting the hint to move south, as the asters are quickly progressing to seed.

  4. Pingback: SG588: How to Creatively Use Stone in the Landscape with Jan Johnsen - 6ftmama


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