Photos of the Week – April 24, 2020

The activity levels in prairies around here start ramping up exponentially in mid-April. More wildflowers begin blooming, but most are still scattered and hard to see until you get within a few yards of them. Bees and other insects are flying around and even more are scooting about on the ground. Many of us aren’t able to get out to our favorite prairies right now, so here are some photos of the kinds of species that are active – at least in my part of Nebraska – at this time of year.

Prairie dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) begin blooming in loess soil prairies in our part of the state.
More and more insects are becoming active as well, including these festive tiger beetles (Cicindela scutellaris).
This bee is already hard at work gathering food to provision the eggs in her nest burrow.
This diminutive little annual is western rockjasmine (Androsace occidentalis). It is very common in our area, growing in crop fields as well as prairies, but is considered rare or even extirpated from parts of the eastern edge of the tallgrass prairie.
Ground plum, aka buffalo pea (Astragalus crassicarpus) is an early blooming legume in both loess and sand prairies here. This photo was taken with my 105mm macro lens, providing a nice portrait of the blossoms.
This photo of the same species was taken with a wide angle lens mounted on a 12mm extension tube. That combination allowed me to get the close up view of the flowers but also show more of the plant and surrounding habitat.
These pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) flowers were photographed with the same wide angle/extension tube combo.
I feel like this photo took maximum advantage of the wide angle/extension tube perspective.
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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 “Photos of the Week – April 24, 2020

  1. Chris,
    I am interested in your observance of insect abundance and diversity. This is of importance as we struggle with creating policy for pesticide use. Many, if not most, corn, wheat and soybean seeds are treated with some form of neonicotinoids. Any thoughts. I am not an entomologist, but do have a long background in grassland ecology (as a botanist). I enjoy, and appreciate your photos and comments. Many years ago I had a good friend (Harlan DeGarmo) who was a range person for the SCS in the Nebraska Sandhills. I took students there several times. It is a very special place.

    Best Regards,

    Gerald L. Van Amburg Cell Phone (218) 790-2502
    Prof. of Biology – Emeritus Home Phone (218) 236-7659
    Concordia College
    Moorhead, MN 56560

    • Hi Gerald. I’m not an entomologist either and I don’t have enough data or experience to really track/measure changes in insect abundance and diversity over time. The one observance I have that I’m concerned about has to do with mosquitoes. While it’s nice from a field work perspective, I’ve noticed a SIGNIFICANT decrease in the mosquito densities in the habitats where I work compared to 20 years ago. I don’t know why that is or what the ecological consequences might be (or what other insects are affected similarly by whatever is causing it) but it worries me not to know. You’re absolutely right that policies on pesticide use are really important, and I’m glad others with more experience than I have are engaged in that. All I can do is try to continue getting people to remember and care about invertebrates, plants, and other aspects of natural communities people tend to ignore otherwise…

      • Hmmm, less mosquitoes is not something I have noticed in the Chicago area. It may be due to there being much less agriculture where I live until you get about 10 miles further west.

  2. I was intrigued by the photo of the bee nest. It’s resemblance to a small crawfish ‘chimney’ is striking. Now, I’m wondering if I’ve mis-identified the homes of ground-nesting bees as crawfish digs. I’ll be more attentive in the future.

  3. Fun fact : pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) are dioecious, meaning that individual plants are either male or female. You can tell the ones in the foreground of your photo are males by the brown anthers sticking out of the flowers. Male pussytoes are also shorter than the females.

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