Photo of the Week – September 6

Well, August was an awesome month for my square meter photography project.  An unbelievable number of insects visited my little plot of prairie during the month, many of them drawn by the abundant and very charismatic Maximilian sunflowers.  After a lot of sorting and decision-making, I ended up with well over 150 high quality photos from the month.  I’m sharing 18 of those with you here.

I started this project with the hope of inspiring people about the beauty and diversity of prairies.  What I didn’t expect was the degree to which I, myself, have been inspired and affected by the project.  The diversity of life I’ve recorded has been amazing, but the process of slowing down, focusing in, and appreciating what I find in a tiny space has become a powerful experience for me.  Rather than feeling like I’m missing other photographic opportunities by returning over and over to the same little spot, I actually find myself wishing I was there when I’m not.

Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying these updates along the way.  I’m working on some ideas for how to share the entire project after the year is over.  If you have suggestions along those lines, please feel free to share them!

This beetle is feeding on the leaf of a Maximilian sunflower plant.

There was only one stiff sunflower plant in my little plot, surrounded by many more Maximilian sunflower plants. I tracked the progress of that stiff sunflower plant, anticipating the diversity of insects I would find on its flowers.  However, as soon as that sunflower bloomed, it was attacked by a horde of little beetles. I will admit being emotionally affected by that attack…

Once Maximilian sunflowers started to bloom, they drew insects like huge magnets, including lots of these little hover flies (aka flower flies and syrphid flies)

It wasn’t just the flowers that attracted insects. Early in the month, I found this cavity with something shiny and brown inside it. I never figured out what was in there, and didn’t want to bother it since it was inside my plot.

A few weeks after the previous photo, I found another cavity in another Maximilian sunflower stem. Same kind of insect? I have no idea.

Soldier beetles were astonishingly abundant this month, both on sunflowers and elsewhere.

While soldier beetle abundance was on the upswing, Japanese beetle abundance was declining. I haven’t seen one in a couple weeks now.

Many of the insects I’m finding are really really tiny, including what I’m pretty sure are itsy bitsy wasps. If you look very closely, you can see one silhouetted against this flower.

Another example of tiny insects – I only saw this little fly because I was photographing the leaf axil of Indiangrass and the fly entered the frame.

I had seen this plant hopper species elsewhere in Lincoln Creek Prairie, and was thrilled to finally catch one in my plot.

This aphid was feeding on a Maximilian sunflower before it flowered.

The smoke from western wildfires created hazy skies last month, but that haze made for some nice photo light, including a photo of the sun itself.

I thought this plant hopper (?) was just an empty exoskeleton until it started moving while I photographed it. Astonishingly cool.

Sunflowers weren’t the only bloomers in August. Grasses were also in full bloom, including this big bluestem plant.

Indiangrass started blooming right at the end of the month, and this hover fly took advantage of the easy access pollen.

This hover fly was resting between flowers on a dewy morning.

After seeing them all over the prairie around me, I finally found a mantis inside my plot. This one is the European mantis.

While I was following the above European mantis around the plot with my camera, I came across this Chinese mantis, also in the plot. Two mantis species in the same day!


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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.

12 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – September 6

  1. Look at the expression on that Chinese mantis’s face! That’s one cute critter. And I’ve never seen anything like the beetle in the first photo. He looks like he’s been quilted. What a world in your square meter.

  2. Chris, we do similar photos on bees in a pollinator garden in Wilmington, De. But your images are in a class a notch above ours. They inspire us.
    I’m curious about the hover fly caption. I thought only bees collect pollen. That’s what makes them so special. Maybe the fly was nectaring?

    • Thanks for the kind words, Don. Flies definitely feed on pollen. The one in the Indiangrass photo is doing just that, and we see them commonly on lots of grasses (which don’t make nectar), including corn. Bees are more efficient/effective pollinators than most flies in several ways, though. First, not all flies are fuzzy enough for pollen to stick to them, so while they eat the pollen, they don’t really pollinate flowers much at all. Other flies, though, are very fuzzy and carry pollen very well. Bees tend to be much better about moving from one to another of the same flower species than other insects, though, and that might be the biggest factor that sets them above other insects in terms of pollination effectiveness.

  3. Chris:

    Love the mantis pictures, especially the second one. Your one square meter project has been most intriguing and enjoyable.


    Lou Harmon

    Better one handful with tranquility

    Ecclesiastes 4:6

  4. Hi Chris,
    First of all: congratulations on so many wonderful photos in your little plot. What should you do with them? I suggest something to sell to raise money for the Conservancy, which could be money for your own work.
    To do this; I would reach out to our community for identifications on the insects that appear throughout the year. Then, you can create all sorts of cool things.
    1. A calendar
    2. Note cards
    3. Journals-perhaps one with lined and unlined pages.
    4. Postcards that can be sold at places such as national monuments.
    5. Art prints.

    I don’t know if the Conservancy would allow this; but if they do it would be wonderful!

    Cheers! Shalal

  5. I love your photos! I am partial to the Mantis photos. Thank you so much for sharing your photos.
    I think postcards and the other suggestions for the photos are excellent ideas.

  6. I love these! The green metallic shine on the Japanese beatle, the sunflower from behind, and the praying mantis made me smile!

  7. Pingback: Best of 2018 – Part 1 – The Prairie Ecologist


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