Photos of the Week – October 9, 2020

Good grief – I left for one week in the mountains and when I came back the prairies around here had gone nearly dormant! It was apparently warmer at high elevation in Colorado last week than it was here in the Nebraska prairies, and that cold weather here seems to have accelerated the end of the growing season. There’s very little left for flowers, and insects are getting much harder to find too. As a photographer, this is the time of year I try not to feel panicked about how long it’s going to be before I see flowers and ‘bugs’ again…

I had a couple brief periods of prairie time this week, and did manage to find a few insects still moving around (and some that weren’t). Here is a selection of photos from my first week back in the prairie. The first batch is from The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies:

Milkweed seed at the Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/20, 1/100 sec.
Lacewing on milkweed pod. Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/20, 1/100 sec.
Tree cricket on tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum). Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/250 sec.
Stink bug on tall thistle. Platte River Prairies Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/16, 1/100 sec.
Grasshopper on milkweed pod. Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/16, 1/200 sec.
Banded argiope spider (Argiope trifasciata). Platte River Prairies. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/8, 1/320 sec.

Yesterday, I took a quick trip to our family prairie to check on the grazing situation and make final decisions about how and when to end the grazing season. I saw even fewer insects moving around than I did on the Platte, but the fall colors were still vibrant and attractive. It was also my first opportunity to re-visit the site since seeing all the weird climbing/dying caterpillars a few weeks ago.

Coralberry (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus) at our family prairie yesterday. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/13, 1/320 sec.
False boneset (Brickellia eupatoroides) at our family prairie. Can you see the caterpillar? I almost missed it. You can click on the image for a larger version. Nikon 10.5mm fish eye lens. ISO 320, f/22, 1/100 sec.
Now can you see the caterpillar? Nikon 10.5mm fish eye lens. ISO 320, f/18, 1/80 sec.
Boneset flower moth caterpillar (Schinia grandimedia). Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/18, 1/80 sec.

I almost missed finding the boneset flower moth caterpillar, but it finally caught my eye as I was playing with my fish eye lens and the false boneset it was feeding on. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but found it on Bugguide.net later. Apparently, it’s a specialist feeder on false boneset, so it wasn’t just an accident that it was on that plant! It better hurry up and finish eating before we get another cold snap…

There were many fewer Virginian tiger moth caterpillars high in the vegetation on this visit, and I didn’t see any alive. When I started looking closely, I was able to find quite a few dead ones, in varying stages of desiccation. I’d hoped to come back out and grab a few live/dying ones after my last visit, and see if I could figure out what was controlling/killing them, but vacation prep and travel got in the way. Maybe next year. I guess it’s ok to have active mysteries in my life – keeps me coming back to learn!

Dead and desiccated Virginian tiger moth caterpillar. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/11, 1/400 sec.
Another one… Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 320, f/11, 1/500 sec.

I wish you all well in these turbulent times. My trip to the mountains was a welcome escape from the news cycle and people in general. It’s been a little difficult to readjust to life again, now that we’re back. My visits, albeit brief, to a couple prairies this week helped a lot. I hope each of you can find similar solace in your lives.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized 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.

7 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – October 9, 2020

  1. Thanks for sharing Chris. Even though winter is coming, you still found some cool stuff! I’ve been looking for galls on oak, and also focusing on flower seed production, investigating which were successful and which have been predating on. There’s always something happening in nature…

  2. Seeing as how you are well versed in insect life of prairies could you list a couple of insect species that inhabit prairies only that one should watch for if they have a “recreated” prairie? I have a 3 acre planted from seed prairie that I’d like to know if I’m attracting prairie species to.

    • It’s an important question, but I don’t think there are specific answers – or at least I don’t know of any species that might apply everywhere. Instead, I’d do two things: First, I’d see if you can find the same insect species in your seeded prairie as you see in an adjacent (or nearby) site. That can help you see if the habitat you’re providing is sufficient (it gets trickier if there isn’t an adjacent prairie because an insect species might be absent simply because it can’t travel to your site). Second, I would look at specialist insects. That can include bees that feed only on certain plant species, for example, or butterflies with specialized larval hosts (monarchs, regal fritillaries, etc.), and can also include parasite/parasitoids that have specific hosts. Whenever you find examples of specialist relationships that are intact, I think that’s a hopeful sign. I hope that helps.

  3. Thank you for your posts and photos, I enjoy each and every post. Here in SW Black Hills we have had so little moisture most everything went dormant two months ago. It’s terrible. The central and northern hills fared better than we did but it was a harsh summer. Thank you for the uplifting posts!

  4. Thanks in every way for this post, Chris.
    I second your recommendation to all to spend time outdoors in natural places, seeing natural sights, hearing natural sounds, feeling the breeze and the sun, etc. as a source of solace.

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