Photo of the Week – July 3, 2013

Sometimes danger is waiting just around the corner…

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An ant explores an annual sunflower for extra-floral nectar, seemingly unware of the crab spider lurking on the other side of the petals.  The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve – Nebraska.

Last summer, I wrote a post about annual sunflowers, including a short bit about how sunflowers secrete extra-floral nectar to attract ants.  The ants eat the sweet substance and may help repel potential herbivores from the sunflower in return.  As you might expect, however, an abundance of ants can also be a potential source of food for other predators – including crab spiders.  When I was at our Niobrara Valley Preserve last week, I noticed several instances where crab spiders were hanging around on sunflowers.  They probably weren’t waiting specifically for ants, but apparently ants are an acceptable prey item if they happen to be available (see below).

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A crab spider feeds on an ant it caught on an annual sunflower.  This photo was taken a few minutes after the above photo, but it wasn’t the same sunflower, spider, or ant shown in that first photo.

…and that’s life – and death – in the prairie.

Photo of the Week – September 28, 2012

During the last couple of weeks, the weather and prairies have both made full transitions to autumn.  I’ve been able to grab a little time here and there to snap some portraits of the fall prairie.  I hope you enjoy them.

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Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) stands out against a backdrop of gold and green prairie.

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A jumping spider peers at me from the stem of a beggarstick flower in a restored wetland.

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Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – long since done flowering – is still an attractive flower in the autumn prairie.

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Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) contributes strongly to the cacophany of yellow flowers in autumn prairies.

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Heath aster (Aster ericoides) is super-abundant this year in some of our prairies, and many pollinators – including this fly – appear to appreciate it.

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False boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides) is one of the deepest rooted plants in the prairie, which allowed it to flower and produce abundant seed even in this very dry year.

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