Prairie Limerick Challenge! – Brought to you by Pete’s Plants

I spent last week in Houston, attending The Nature Conservancy’s Global Science Gathering. It was a great meeting and I came away with lots of ideas for thought-provoking blog posts.  This isn’t one of them.

One night at dinner, in the midst of a wide-ranging discussion, a friend mentioned participating in a challenge to turn scientific journal articles into poems. Without really meaning to, I immediately composed a bad limerick about the value of fire in prairies.  (I’m not really right in the head.)  Since that night, my brain keeps trying to write more limericks about prairies.  Rather than keep all the fun to myself, I thought maybe we could turn it into a communal activity.  

I felt like I needed a photo of some kind for this post.  I picked out this one, which I think looks like a happy face in the ice.  

As a result, I’m introducing The Prairie Ecologist’s first annual Prairie Limerick Contest.  Send me your best prairie-themed limericks in the comments section below and I’ll pick out my favorites to share in an upcoming post.

Here’s an example to get your creative juices flowing:

Joe loved prairies with flowers and bees,
But his poor kids were filled with unease
“We hate this,” they chorused
“Let’s move to the forest!”
He said “Sure, just get rid of the trees!”

I should mention, this contest is sponsored by Pete’s Plants, a totally fake company that offers everything you need for establishing a backyard prairie garden or large-scale grassland restoration project.  In addition to their sponsorship, Pete’s Plants even provided their own limerick (below). Thank you to Pete and all his staff!

Crab Spider Tent

A crab spider and silk webbing at our family last weekend.

A few of us took a short trip out to our family prairie last weekend.  My daughter was back from college for the weekend and wanted to see what was happening in the prairie, so we did a little canoeing (tight circles in the small pond), hiking, and exploring.  Later, I found myself photographing dotted gayfeather seeds, and while I was looking for more of those plants, I stumbled upon a grass leaf that was bent funny with some kind of white silk holding it in that position.  I had actually walked past the grass leaf before my brain finally registered the fact that I should go back and examine it.

Looking more closely, I could see enough of the creature inside to identify it as a crab spider.  It had been raining quite a bit during the previous couple weeks, so my first thought was that the crab spider had made itself a little rain shelter.  (Crab spiders don’t make webs, but like all spiders, do make silk and use it for various purposes.).  However, my better guess was that it was a nest and that it might contain a bunch of spider eggs.  I photographed it for a few minutes, taking lots of photos, since the breeze was making it hard to keep the spider in focus.

A tiny spiderling, accidentally photographed.

Later, when I was looking through images at home, I was culling all the photos of the spider that weren’t in focus (dang that wind) when I happened to spot something that confirmed my guess.  Right above an unfocused crab spider face, a tiny spiderling appeared – just in one photo, not in any others.  Apparently, this was indeed a crab spider nest, and at least one egg had already hatched.  

The crab spider eventually shifted around and showed its face.

Crab spiders aren’t the only group of spiders that take care of their kids.  Frequent readers of this blog will, of course, remember a previous post of mine showing a mother wolf spider carrying her brood around on her body, and even if you don’t, you may have heard that wolf spiders lug both their egg sacs and newly hatched babies around with them.  Wolf spiders aren’t alone, though, and we’re still learning more about how well various spider species care for their young.  If you’re interested, you can read more in this nice blog post from Biome Ecology.  Otherwise, you can just join me in wishing this particular crab spider’s brood good luck as they disperse and try to find safe places to overwinter.