Photo of the Week – September 6, 2013

Here are three photos from the last couple weeks that didn’t fit into any particular story or theme.  Each is from a different prairie, and each was the result of a quick opportunistic stop in the midst of doing something else.  The pitcher sage photo (immediately below) came after I walked past a patch of the flowers and then backed up to capture the image that stuck in my head when I first walked past.  I noticed the soldier beetle (second photo) as I was walking back to take more photos of the praying mantis eating the sphinx moth.  Finally, I spotted the bee sitting on a dew-covered gayfeather flower (third photo) as I got out of my truck to work on a fence project at our farm.

Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) in our plant diversity research plots.  Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea) in our plant diversity research plots. Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

.

A soldier beetle on a grass leaf.  Lincoln Creek Prairie - Aurora, Nebraska.

A soldier beetle on a grass leaf. Lincoln Creek Prairie – Aurora, Nebraska.

.

A male long-horned bee (Melissodes sp) on dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata).  Helzer family prairie - south of Aurora, Nebraska.

A male long-horned bee (Melissodes sp) on dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata). Helzer family prairie – south of Aurora, Nebraska.

A Soldier Beetle Occupation

Everywhere I look, I see soldier beetles.

They’re in my yard, they’re in my prairies, and now I think they’re getting into my head (figuratively speaking).  The linden tree in our front yard is blooming this week, and every flower is loaded with feeding and mating soldier beetles.  Over the weekend, my son and I went to our family’s prairie and it seemed there were soldier beetles on every plant! 

While soldier beetles are predators, they also feed heavily on pollen.  This one is feeding on sensitive briar – aka cat’s claw (Mimosa quadrivalvus) at our family prairie in Hamilton County, Nebraska.

Daniel and I were at the prairie to look for musk thistles (only found one) and check the cows (found them all).  After we accomplished those two objectives, I grabbed my camera to take advantage of the diffused light from the bright overcast skies and Daniel headed to the pond to chase frogs.  Dan didn’t catch any frogs, but I managed to get some decent shots.  Some of those photos included soldier beetles as the primary subject – they were easy to find.  Other photos included soldier beetles accidentally.  In a few cases, I didn’t even know the beetles were in the photo until I loaded the images onto the computer back at home.

While they are sometimes misidentified as lightning bugs, these are soldier beetles feeding on the pollen of a black-eyed Susan flower.  I photographed these on purpose…

.

When I photographed this fly feeding on a daisy fleabane flower, I didn’t even see the soldier beetle in the background – though I shouldn’t be surprised it was there…

.

These regal fritillary butterflies are out very early this year, and are fortunate that milkweed flowers are also out early. I was photographing the butterflies (including the variegated fritillary), but ended up with soldier beetles in the photo as well.

When I zoom in on the butterfly photo above, I can count five soldier beetles. Can you find them all?  One is particularly tricky to find because only the back half shows.  I think I see the leg of another, but I can’t tell for sure.  If you click on the photo and then click again, you’ll get a zoomed in image (if your computer works like mine).

If you want to learn more about soldier beetles – including how to differentiate them from lightning bugs – click here.

I wonder if they’ll chase away the moths…