Best of 2017 – Stories and Photos from The Year

I’m consistently and deeply grateful to everyone who takes the time to read and/or follow this blog.  After more than 7 years, pumping out a couple blog posts each week is still energizing for me, and it’s awfully nice to know people are out there enjoying what I post.

This is my annual “Best Of” post, in which you can find some of my favorite posts from 2017 in case you’re looking for something to read (or re-read) over the holidays.  Below that, you can peruse what I think are the best photos I took this past year.  If you have friends or colleagues who don’t yet appropriately appreciate the beauty and complexity of prairies, feel free to forward this post to them.  You never know what might start someone on their own journey of discovery, and we need all the prairie fans we can get.

Speaking of that, please consider supporting your favorite conservation organization this season.  There are lots of good options, including the one that pays my salary.  Thank you for any support – financial or otherwise – you can provide to help conserve prairies and other important natural areas around the world.

Favorite 2017 posts:

General Science, Prairie Management, and Philosophy

  1. An essay about the importance of understanding the scientific process and its impact on our lives.
  2. How does livestock grazing fit with concerns about emissions that contribute to rapid climate change?
  3. Thoughts about tough decisions regarding sometimes conflicting prairie management objectives.
  4. A discussion about how prairie size can influence the viability of prairie species and communities.
  5. A post designed for land managers who might feel discouraged about the constant and growing challenges they face.

Natural History and Place-Based Stories

  1. The unsung heroes of pollination – single moms.
  2. Is it a wasp, mantis, or fly?  Nope.
  3. Background on the incredible numbers of painted lady butterflies seen in 2017.
  4. Insects that steal nectar without following protocol.
  5. Monarch butterflies arrived in Nebraska much sooner than usual this year.
  6. Photos from one of the most spectacular and hidden places in Nebraska.
  7. An informative (and humorous) look at a beautiful and unusual plant.

Most Viewed Post of all Time…

Just for fun, here is a link to the blog post that has had more views than any I have other written.  It’s certainly not the one I would have expected, but I checked the statistics out of curiosity and there it was – 48,000 views all time, including 21,000 in 2017.  I’m not going to tell you what it is, but if you’re curious, you can click here and find out.

Favorite Photos of 2017

Here is a selection of the photos I thought were my best from 2017.  You can see them in the slideshow below (click on the arrows or just sit back and watch), or in YouTube video form below that.  Hopefully, one of the two formats will work on whatever device you’re viewing this on.

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YouTube Video of the same photos:

If you liked these photos, you might also like my 2016 selections or this collection of some of my all-time favorites.

My Wife Finds A Basement Visitor

One of the best parts of a happy marriage is being periodically reminded that you’ve found just the right partner.  My latest example of that came this weekend, when my wife came up from our basement with a jar containing a beautiful inch-and-a-half-long house centipede.  Kim had been doing laundry and spotted it on the floor.  Instead of stomping on it, she trapped it and delivered it to her crazy photographer husband.  I sure do love that woman.

House centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata)

Since house centipedes are fleet of foot (feet?) and can have a pretty painful bite, I had to come up with a creative way to photograph this one.  I needed to get close to the centipede without it getting away (and/or scurrying up my arm) but also didn’t want any glass jar walls or other obstacles between my camera and my subject.  My eventual solution was to put the centipede in a shallow but slippery white porcelain serving bowl from our kitchen.  The little critter couldn’t quite climb the walls, but I could still point my camera right in its face, especially when it stopped and faced upward on the side of the bowl.  I placed the bowl on my dining room floor in a beam of late afternoon sunlight from the window and clicked away with my camera.  (I’ll add the white serving bowl idea to my other homemade photo studio options, which include an old wheelbarrow.)

House centipedes are native to the Mediterranean region of the earth, but have spread across much of the globe, often cohabitating with people.  They can live outside, especially in moist places under leaf litter, rocks, or other cover, but don’t do well with cold winters.  In places where temperatures dip below their comfort level, house centipedes tend to make their way into warm basements like ours.

As predators, house centipedes have a wide range of prey, including crickets, silverfish, earwigs, and spiders.  They have modified front legs called “forcipules” through which they inject prey with venom.  Because the venom comes from forcipules instead of actual mandibles, it is considered a sting, rather than a bite when the skin is pierced and venom injected.  I bet most prey don’t care much about the distinction.

This cropped image shows the sharp brown-tipped forcipules used to inject venom into prey.  They are right behind the spiky maxillae, and while they look like fangs, or mandibles, the forcipules are technically modified legs.

House centipedes have 15 pairs of legs at maturity, but start out with only 4 pairs when they hatch from eggs.  As they grow and mature, they add about two sets of legs every time they molt.  The rear-most legs of females look like giant antennae, growing much longer than their other pairs.  While I was playing with the my photo subject (before I figured out the serving bowl strategy), those long rear legs accidentally got caught between the rim of a jar and the floor, and they popped off.  They twitched for a minute or two afterward, which I assume could distract a predator and give the speedy centipede time to escape.  The twitching legs distracted me too, but I still managed to keep the jar firmly over the centipede.

House centipedes are nothing to worry about, probably help keep other basement-dwelling insects under control, and will usually try to stay out of your way.  Since my serving-bowl-photo-studio design kept the centipede at a safe distance from me, I didn’t have a chance to test the severity of its bite/sting, but a little research makes it sound like it feels similar to a bee sting.  I’m happy to trust the internet on that, I think.

Face to face on the inclined edge of a white serving bowl…