Predators play key roles in ecosystems. When they are absent or rare, impacts ripple through landscapes, often in unexpected ways. We all rely on the presence and effectiveness of predators, but usually fail to adequately celebrate their importance.
When thinking about predators, most people probably conjure up images of lions, tigers, bears, and other large vertebrates. However, smaller invertebrate predators play the same kinds of critical roles as those big animals. Here are a few portraits of tiny predators that help keep prairies healthy and vibrant.
No one will be surprised that I included a crab spider in this batch of images. This one ambushed a hover fly on hoary vervain (Verbena stricta).
This juvenile assassin bug is finishing off a fly.
This adult assassin bug sits poised and ready to attack any prey that comes near.
Jumping spiders, the teddy bears of spiders, are very effective predators – maybe because their prey gets distracted by their cuteness.
Dragonflies are large nimble predators that (fortunately for us) are big enough to handle small insects, but not big enough to cause us harm.
Here are some more details on our upcoming field day at the Platte River Prairies on Saturday August 5. The day will run from 9 am to 2 pm and will focus on pollinators and other invertebrates. We’ll talk about ecology and natural history of invertebrates, but also about invertebrate-friendly strategies for prairie restoration and management. The format will all be field-based, so our presenters will be talking as they lead hikes around the prairie.
The gray hairstreak butterfly is just one of many insects we should see on August 5. Did you also notice the little beetle next to it? Come learn about both the easily visible and more hidden aspects of the invertebrate world!
Jennifer Hopwood of the Xerces Society will be on hand to talk about pollinator insect ecology and conservation issues. Julie Peterson, with University of Nebraska extension will be talking about other invertebrates. They’re both really engaging and have strong expertise, so be ready to see (and catch!) some insects and learn all kinds of new information.
In addition, Sarah Bailey of Prairie Plains Resource Institute (PPRI) will be leading tours of our restored prairies and talking about restoration methods that favor pollinators and other invertebrates. Sarah and PPRI have restored well over 10,000 acres of prairie in eastern Nebraska in recent years with high diversity native seed mixtures. I will also be leading tours and talking about how to use fire and grazing management to sustain strong and diverse invertebrate/pollinator populations.
The field day is free and open to the public, and should be useful to nature enthusiasts and their families, as well as conservation professionals. You can come anytime between 9 and 2 and join in with whatever tours are going on. Bring your own lunch and water bottles, but we’ll provide snacks and cold drinks as well. Be sure to bring along whatever other field supplies you need – sunscreen, hat, insect repellant, etc.
The prairies should be putting on a good show – we’ve had some recent rains and the wildflowers and insects are having a really good year. I hope to see you there!
Location: The Nature Conservancy’s Derr House. Take the Wood River Exit (#300) off Interstate 80 and head south for two miles. When the highway curves sharply to the east, take the gravel road that allows you to continue south and you’ll immediately see the TNC sign and big brick Derr House on your right. Parking is at the bottom of the hill before you get to the house.