Photo of the Week – June 8, 2017

In several of our prairies right now, poppy mallows are among the most prolific flowers.  Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) and pale pink poppy mallow (Callirhoe alcoides) are not only great tongue twisters, but also pretty flowers and important food sources for pollinators.  Earlier this week, I watched a monarch moving from flower to flower in a big patch of pale pink poppy mallow, but I didn’t manage to get a picture of it.  Yesterday, I paused to photograph a poppy mallow blossom and noticed something funny about the underside of the flower…

Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know of my affinity for crab spiders.  They’re just so stinking cute, and once you start looking for them, they are everywhere, especially on flowers.

This particular long-legged friend and his relatives were on several kinds of flowers in our prairies this week, including pale pink poppy mallow (above) and yarrow (below).

At our family prairie, I found a different crab spider (below) hanging out on yarrow with its long front legs cocked and ready to spring shut on unsuspecting prey.

As I photographed the spider, a fly landed on the flower and started feeding on pollen and moving about the flower.

It got closer and closer to the spider, so I just kept shooting.  A few moments later, it turned its back on the spider…

…and the spider GRABBED it.  The fly buzzed loudly and drug the spider around a little, but was no match for the strong grip and venomous bite.

For a few seconds, the spider stood vertically, holding tight to the fly.  Then as the fly’s struggles subsided, the crab spider repositioned itself to start feeding.

Apparently, the spot right behind the head is the best place to puncture a fly if you want to suck out its liquefied insides.  A little tip for all you fly sucker wannabes out there…

Seeing the number of flowers with crab spiders, and the ease with which this crab spider caught its prey is a reminder of how dangerous it is to be a pollinator.  Every flower is a potential source of nutritious food, but a fair number of them also host lurking crab spiders, waiting to snag careless insects.  As someone who spends a lot of time trying to photograph pollinators, I’m keenly aware of how quickly they move from flower to flower.  Of course they do – the longer they stick around each flower, the better chance something will catch and eat them!

Photo of the Week – April 13, 2017

Prairie dandelion, aka prairie false dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) is different from common dandelion (Taraxacum officianale), the one most people are familiar with in yards and weedy places.  Prairie dandelion is a native perennial wildflower, mainly restricted to dry unplowed prairies, while the other dandelion is a non-native species that seems able to pop up just about anywhere.  I’m actually a fan of both species, and don’t mind seeing common dandelion in our prairies, especially as an important early-season pollinator resource, but it’s always a treat to find populations of prairie dandelion.

Prairie dandelion at Gjerloff Prairie.

Prairie dandelion has a similar appearance to common dandelion, but there are some pretty strong differences as well.  The flowers are much larger, for example, and the leaves are long and don’t have the large serrations that common dandelion leaves have.  Prairie dandelion is considered to be a rare plant in many eastern prairie states, but is found across much of Nebraska – though it is certainly nowhere as abundant as common dandelion.

Close up of two prairie dandelion flowers.

While I was photographing prairie dandelion flowers this last weekend, I noticed a small grasshopper nymph feeding on the petals of one of the blossoms.  I took a few photos of it and moved on.  A few minutes later, I walked back past the flower and noticed the grasshopper had moved into a more visible location, so I took a few more photos of it.  When I got home and looked through the photos, my first instinct was that the second set of photos were better because I could see the whole grasshopper and it was better framed within the image.  Upon more reflection, however, I’m not sure.  Since some of you enjoy voting on this kind of thing, I decided to include both images, and you can tell me if you have a preference between them.  Just leave your vote in the comments section below.

Grasshopper nymph #1

Grasshopper nymph #2

It was a pretty tough winter for prairie photography around here; not much snow, and not even a lot of ice to photograph – with the exception of one notable ice storm.  I’m really glad that flowers and insects are finally breaking up the monotony of drab brown prairie vegetation.  It should be a fun spring.