Every visit to a prairie is different – partially because the prairie is always changing, and partially because I focus on different aspects or species each time. This week, I was near Griffith Prairie (owned and managed by my friends at Prairie Plains Resource Institute) when the light coming through the diffused clouds was too much to resist. I popped over to see what was going on in the grassland…
On this particular day, wildflowers were blooming all over the place, but what kept catching my eye were stink bugs. I don’t know if they were particularly abundant or if I was just paying attention enough to notice how many there were. Either way, I seemed to see stink bugs on just about every plant species I looked at. They weren’t all the same kind of stink bug, but I don’t know enough about them to tell for sure how many species I was seeing.
On Wednesday, our staff was out enjoying some beautiful fall weather and harvesting the last of our prairie seeds for the season. Walking along a gravel lane, we found a small snake basking in the sun. I didn’t recognize it, so I stopped to photograph it in case it was a species we hadn’t seen in our prairies before. Thanks to Mardell Jasnowski and Nelson Winkel for helping me get the photo. (And for being patient while I shot it from many different angles…)
Juvenile eastern racers look very different from the adults of that species. Adult racers don’t have any patterned markings on their backs, and are a uniform blue or green color on top and yellow on the belly. In fact, they’re often called green racers or blue racers because of that coloration (also yellowbelly racers). When I saw this juvenile, I didn’t even think about the possibility it might be a racer. I was running through the names of all the snake species I could think of with brown and black patterned backs, and none of them fit what I was seeing.
Eastern racers aren’t the only snake species in which the juvenile has a different, more camouflaged appearance than the adult (black rat snakes are another example). It’s also a phenomenon seen in other kinds of animals, including white-tailed deer and red-winged blackbirds – among many others. I guess a little extra camouflage when you’re young and inexperienced in the world is probably a good idea!
At the request of many of you, I’ve added captions to the slideshow photos I posted last November. Those slideshows can always be found from the home page of this blog (under the Photography Page). In addition, I’ve provided links to each at the end of this post.
Now that I’ve got them labeled, I’d appreciate any help you can give me in identifying species correctly. I’m pretty confident about the vertebrates and plants, but could sure use some assistance with the invertebrates. If you see one that I’ve got wrong, or you can identify it more specifically, please let me know by adding a comment below the slideshow.