It’s a crazy time to be alive, huh?
I hope all of you are safe and that you and yours stay that way. Please be kind, take care of each other, and (obviously) wash your hands. Also, it’s a great time to go explore a wide open prairie!
I’m personally in a kind of double quarantine at the moment. I’m working from home, which isn’t unusual, but is now a part of a broader COVID-19 suppression strategy. In addition, however, I’m staying home because my wife tested positive for Influenza A over the weekend. The doctor was in a jovial mood when he called to ‘congratulate’ us on the fact that her cough, sore chest, and fever was only influenza (see the first sentence of this post). The kids and I have so far stayed symptom free, but we’re keeping ourselves out of general circulation for a few days so we don’t pass the flu along to others. Kim’s already feeling better (thanks vaccinations!) and we’re working with the kids on a plan for surviving the coming weeks of no school.
IN THE MEANTIME, since there are lots of us trying to keep ourselves and family members pleasantly occupied, I constructed a little quiz that I hope you’ll find fun and/or informative. If you’ve been a longtime and regular reader of this blog, you’ll probably have no trouble acing the quiz, but I also provided you with additional reading suggestions if you want to learn even more about any of the topics.
Here we go – answers will be at the end of the post. Be safe, everyone.
1) How many species of insects or other animals pollinate soapweed yucca (Yucca glauca) flowers?
E. Soapweed yucca doesn’t exist
2) What are these creatures and what are they doing?
A. A big robber fly caught and paralyzed a tiger beetle and is now sucking its innards out.
B. A big robber fly caught a tiger beetle by the tail and is singing a little song before releasing it.
C. The tiger beetle was hot and the robber fly is providing some shade for it so it can cool off.
D. None of the above. This is obviously a fake photograph.
3) What do dung beetles do with a pile of fresh bison poop?
A. Burrow inside it and lay eggs so the larvae can feed on poop when they hatch.
B. Burrow beneath it, take some poop with them, and lay eggs and feed the larvae with poop.
C. Roll some into a big ball, push it across the prairie to a better spot, bury it, and lay eggs with it.
D. All of the above, depending upon the kind of dung beetle.
E. Nothing. Poop is stinky.
4) What caused this mass of bubbles on this plant?
A. Increases in carbon concentrations in the air and soil has caused the sap of this plant to become carbonated.
B. The larvae of an insect called a frog hopper is feeding on the plant and excreting bubbles from its rear end.
C. This is a remnant of foam retardant used by by a fire management crew to contain a prescribed fire.
5) Why are there two kinds of eggs in this nest?
A. During Easter, some people think it’s funny to hide colored eggs in wild bird nests.
B. Some bird dumped her eggs in another bird’s nest so she wouldn’t have to raise her own babies.
C. The coloration of bird eggs can change dramatically with diet, so the bird probably found a new food source halfway through the egg laying period.
D. A robin got tired of bluejays stealing her eggs so she started camouflaging them.
6) What happened here?
A. A fly larvae burrowed into the stem of this plant, the stem swelled up around it, and the fly burrowed its way out after growing up.
B. In an attempt to boost populations of a rare wasp species in South Dakota, biologists are creating additional nesting habitat by drilling holes into small plants.
C. A common flicker (woodpecker) pecked a hole in this plant, captured a tiny caterpillar, put it in the hole, and is keeping it there until it’s big enough to eat.
1) The answer is C. There is only one pollinator of soapweed yucca and it’s the yucca moth. You can read an earlier blog post about this fascinating relationship here.
2) The answer is A. I actually got to observe the attack happen from close range and described it (with photos) here.
3) The answer is D. Dung beetles come in different categories, depending upon how they interact with poop. Rollers get the most attention, but they all have interesting back stories. You can read an earlier post on this subject here.
4) The answer is B. Frog hopper larvae, also known as spittle bugs, excrete the bubbles as protection from both predators and the environment. It’s a great way to use the excessive amounts of waste produced by eating a very nutrient poor diet. There is a terrific video (not mine) showing this process here.
5) The answer is B. Brown-headed cowbirds evolved as a nomadic species that followed herds of bison around the Plains. Because they followed the herds and ate insects associated with those bison, they couldn’t stick to a nesting territory. Instead, they laid their eggs in other birds’ nests, sometimes removing one of the host’s eggs, and moved on. The results are often not great for the host because cowbird chicks are often larger and more aggressive than the host chicks and the host chicks often starve as a result. The overall impact of cowbirds today is greater than it used to be because of many factors, especially habitat fragmentation, which makes it easier for cowbirds to find a big percentage of nests in an area. In this case, there are four cowbird eggs in a dickcissel nest. Read more about cowbirds here.
6) The answer is A. Goldenrod galls are common in prairies and you can cut them open to find either the fly larvae or the remnants of its residence inside the gall. The galls don’t seem to have a tremendous impact on the plants, but they make a great story to share with kids. You can read more about it here.