Prairie Limerick Challenge! – Brought to you by Pete’s Plants

I spent last week in Houston, attending The Nature Conservancy’s Global Science Gathering. It was a great meeting and I came away with lots of ideas for thought-provoking blog posts.  This isn’t one of them.

One night at dinner, in the midst of a wide-ranging discussion, a friend mentioned participating in a challenge to turn scientific journal articles into poems. Without really meaning to, I immediately composed a bad limerick about the value of fire in prairies.  (I’m not really right in the head.)  Since that night, my brain keeps trying to write more limericks about prairies.  Rather than keep all the fun to myself, I thought maybe we could turn it into a communal activity.  

I felt like I needed a photo of some kind for this post.  I picked out this one, which I think looks like a happy face in the ice.  

As a result, I’m introducing The Prairie Ecologist’s first annual Prairie Limerick Contest.  Send me your best prairie-themed limericks in the comments section below and I’ll pick out my favorites to share in an upcoming post.

Here’s an example to get your creative juices flowing:

Joe loved prairies with flowers and bees,
But his poor kids were filled with unease
“We hate this,” they chorused
“Let’s move to the forest!”
He said “Sure, just get rid of the trees!”

I should mention, this contest is sponsored by Pete’s Plants, a totally fake company that offers everything you need for establishing a backyard prairie garden or large-scale grassland restoration project.  In addition to their sponsorship, Pete’s Plants even provided their own limerick (below). Thank you to Pete and all his staff!

Photo of the Week – September 6

Well, August was an awesome month for my square meter photography project.  An unbelievable number of insects visited my little plot of prairie during the month, many of them drawn by the abundant and very charismatic Maximilian sunflowers.  After a lot of sorting and decision-making, I ended up with well over 150 high quality photos from the month.  I’m sharing 18 of those with you here.

I started this project with the hope of inspiring people about the beauty and diversity of prairies.  What I didn’t expect was the degree to which I, myself, have been inspired and affected by the project.  The diversity of life I’ve recorded has been amazing, but the process of slowing down, focusing in, and appreciating what I find in a tiny space has become a powerful experience for me.  Rather than feeling like I’m missing other photographic opportunities by returning over and over to the same little spot, I actually find myself wishing I was there when I’m not.

Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying these updates along the way.  I’m working on some ideas for how to share the entire project after the year is over.  If you have suggestions along those lines, please feel free to share them!

This beetle is feeding on the leaf of a Maximilian sunflower plant.

There was only one stiff sunflower plant in my little plot, surrounded by many more Maximilian sunflower plants. I tracked the progress of that stiff sunflower plant, anticipating the diversity of insects I would find on its flowers.  However, as soon as that sunflower bloomed, it was attacked by a horde of little beetles. I will admit being emotionally affected by that attack…

Once Maximilian sunflowers started to bloom, they drew insects like huge magnets, including lots of these little hover flies (aka flower flies and syrphid flies)

It wasn’t just the flowers that attracted insects. Early in the month, I found this cavity with something shiny and brown inside it. I never figured out what was in there, and didn’t want to bother it since it was inside my plot.

A few weeks after the previous photo, I found another cavity in another Maximilian sunflower stem. Same kind of insect? I have no idea.

Soldier beetles were astonishingly abundant this month, both on sunflowers and elsewhere.

While soldier beetle abundance was on the upswing, Japanese beetle abundance was declining. I haven’t seen one in a couple weeks now.

Many of the insects I’m finding are really really tiny, including what I’m pretty sure are itsy bitsy wasps. If you look very closely, you can see one silhouetted against this flower.

Another example of tiny insects – I only saw this little fly because I was photographing the leaf axil of Indiangrass and the fly entered the frame.

I had seen this plant hopper species elsewhere in Lincoln Creek Prairie, and was thrilled to finally catch one in my plot.

This aphid was feeding on a Maximilian sunflower before it flowered.

The smoke from western wildfires created hazy skies last month, but that haze made for some nice photo light, including a photo of the sun itself.

I thought this plant hopper (?) was just an empty exoskeleton until it started moving while I photographed it. Astonishingly cool.

Sunflowers weren’t the only bloomers in August. Grasses were also in full bloom, including this big bluestem plant.

Indiangrass started blooming right at the end of the month, and this hover fly took advantage of the easy access pollen.

This hover fly was resting between flowers on a dewy morning.

After seeing them all over the prairie around me, I finally found a mantis inside my plot. This one is the European mantis.

While I was following the above European mantis around the plot with my camera, I came across this Chinese mantis, also in the plot. Two mantis species in the same day!