Photo of the Week – December 11, 2014

For no particular reason, here are two unrelated photos from the same day.  Both photographs were taken on September 28, 2014 at our family prairie south of Aurora, Nebraska.  I wish I could come up with a pithy and informative way to link the two together, or to a larger theme or lesson.  I can’t.  I just like the photos.  I hope you do too.

A katydid on stiff goldenrod.  Frequent readers of The Prairie Ecologist will remember that you can distinguish a katydid from a grasshopper by its very long antenna.

A katydid on stiff goldenrod. Frequent readers of The Prairie Ecologist will remember that you can distinguish a katydid from a grasshopper by its very long antenna.

 

Stiff goldenrod seeds resting on the leaf beneath the seedhead they dropped from.

Stiff goldenrod seeds resting on the leaf beneath the seedhead from which they dropped.

 

Photo of the Week – September 12, 2014

It’s grasshopper season!

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

By the end of summer, most grasshoppers have completed their five or so molts and have become adults – complete with functional wings.   Now, as we walk and drive through our prairies, these fully-formed adult grasshoppers (along with katydids and tree crickets) seem to be everywhere.  They explode from our feet like popcorn – especially in areas of shorter vegetation.  And they’re hungry.  We see them feeding on sunflowers, goldenrod, grasses and almost every other kind of plant in the prairie.  As in other groups of species, the diversity of grasshopper species (108 species in Nebraska) leads to a diversity of feeding habits.  Some feed high in the canopy, others low.  Some feed mainly on grasses, others on forbs.  Some eat from a wide range of species, others from just a few.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower - an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) – an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

Another grasshopper species (probably) also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Another grasshopper species (probably) – also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Predators, of course, respond enthusiastically to the profusion of grasshoppers.  Rather than taking over the world, late summer grasshoppers become the targets of any creature that can catch up with them.  This includes birds, mammals, reptiles, and large invertebrate predators, but also tiny parasites and microbes.  To hungry predators, grasshoppers are just tasty machines that convert vegetation into protein-rich food – and they’re EVERYWHERE!

'Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator.  This katydid didn't like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

‘Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator. This katydid didn’t like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

The prairie is also a noisy place when grasshoppers, katydids, and tree crickets reach adulthood.  Much of the communication between these species is through sound, and it can be hard to hear the rustling of autumn prairie leaves in the wind over the buzzes and whines of insect courtship.

Besides leading females to males, that incessant insect noise acts as a warning to herbivore and predator alike…

“You’d better eat up now – winter is coming!”