Life on a Weedy Plant

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) is considered by many people to be a weed.  It’s a biennial with very pretty, albeit small, daisy-like flowers that flourishes when the dominant plants around it have been weakened.  As a prairie manager, I’ve always appreciated daisy fleabane as an indicator that we’ve created conditions for new wildflowers (short- and long-lived) to insert themselves between the grasses in our sites.

Daisy fleabane (erigeron strigosus).  Lincoln Creek Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

Daisy fleabane reaches toward the sky. Lincoln Creek Prairie. Aurora, Nebraska.

Last Friday evening, I took my camera for a walk in a small prairie here in town and found quite a few daisy fleabane plants growing along the trail.  I wasn’t the only one enjoying them – I saw numerous small bees and flies feeding on the pollen, and a few crab spiders hoping one of those pollinators waiting to ambush those same small pollinators.

Daisy fleabane (erigeron strigosus).  Lincoln Creek Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

Daisy fleabane flowers and small fly.

Fly on Daisy fleabane (erigeron strigosus).  Lincoln Creek Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

A closer look at the fly.

The first crab spider I noticed slipped over the edge of the flower to hide when it spotted me coming toward it.  I turned away to photograph something else nearby.  When I looked back, the spider was back on the flower.  I adjusted my position very slightly and the spider slipped back to its hiding place.  Argh.  Stubbornly, I decided I was going to photograph that spider if I had to wait all evening to do so.  I didn’t have to wait quite that long, but it felt like it.  I got my tripod positioned so that I could take the photo when/if the spider reappeared.  Holding perfectly still, (with sweat running down my nose and mosquitoes feeding on my neck) I stayed in position for at least 5-10 minutes until the spider finally showed itself again.  Got it!

Crab spider on daisy fleabane.  Lincoln Creek Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

This spider photo is nice enough, but will always be memorable to me because of the effort it took to get it.  I hate to think how many mosquitoes got a free meal while I sat still waiting for my little spider buddy to make itself available for a photo…

A little further up the trail, I saw another crab spider that had caught a fly.  I figured it too would make a run for cover when I got close, so I came in low and slow.  I’m not sure it would have mattered – this spider showed none of the anxiety of the first one, and sat very still while I set up the tripod and waited for the breeze to pause long enough to get a good shot.  Maybe this spider was too distracted by its meal to care about me (though that’s not been my experience in the past).   I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful to the second spider for its cooperation or mad at the first one for all the mosquito bites on my neck.

Crab spider on daisy fleabane.  Lincoln Creek Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

This crab spider seemed happy to have its photo taken with its hunting trophy.

I can understand why people might think of daisy fleabane as a weedy little plant, but its just filling an important role.  When the grasses are weak, something has to take advantage of the temporarily available resources around and between them.  There are numerous species that can do that, including a few that can cause real problems if they become established.  Given the choices, I’m always happy to see the pretty little daisy flowers and the diverse tiny creatures they attract.

Photo of the Week – August 1, 2014

A couple weeks ago, I was walking around in my family’s prairie and spotted this tiny silhouette.  The morning sun was shining through the leaves of a stiff goldenrod plant and a fly was (apparently) warming itself in those rays.  Since I was on the opposite side of the leaf from the fly, I was able to sneak up, get my tripod set up, and take a couple photographs before it flew off.

The silhouette of a fly on a stiff goldenrod leaf.  Helzer Family Prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

The silhouette of a fly on a stiff goldenrod leaf. Helzer Family Prairie, Stockham, Nebraska.

Have a great weekend!