Square Meter of Prairie Project – June 2018

Another month has passed, and I’ve managed to carve out some more time staring at the little square meter of prairie I’m photographing this year.  In June, activity really picked up as lead plant (Amorpha canescens) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) started blooming within the plot.  However, there was plenty to photograph besides just those species and the many insects they attracted.  I continue to be inspired by the diversity of life I’m finding in a very small plot of land.  Hopefully, I can pass along some of that inspiration, both during these periodic updates and when I somehow assemble all of this at the end of the project.  Here are just a few of the photos taken during June within one single square meter of Lincoln Creek Prairie in Aurora, Nebraska.

I’ve seen quite a few beetles in the plot, including several different species during June. Thanks to Bugguide.net, this one has been identified as Coleothorpa dominicana, in case you’re interested.
This is a completely different gray beetle, and I don’t know what it is, but there were several in the plot late in June.
This beautiful orange beetle (Anomoea sp.) was on a lead plant flower, just as it was starting to bloom.
I don’t know what these little beetles are, but they’ve been in the plot every time I’ve visited during the last month or so. They were usually (maybe always?) on Maximilian sunflower.
I was really glad to see butterfly milkweed blooming. I assumed it would attract quite a few insects, both pollinators and insects that feed on the foliage. So far, I’ve actually seen very few insects on butterfly milkweed. Maybe that’ll change soon, but it’ll have to be quick because the flowering period is wrapping up.
The tiny blossoms of lead plant are especially beautiful when seen up close.
Mike Arduser informs me that this bee species is Andrena quintilus, a specialist feeder on lead plant.
This wasp was only a brief visitor to the plot, but it stuck around long enough to be photographed.
This long-horned beetle was eating the pollen, and probably other parts of the lead plant flowers.  While beetles like this can help pollinate flowers, they also damage them, so they’re probably not the intended audience from the flower’s standpoint.
During the last couple weeks, invasive Japanese beetles have invaded the prairie, including my little plot. This one was denuding a lead plant flower stalk.
At any one time, there must be close to 100 ants in my little plot, and there are several different species. This is one of the bigger ones.
About a week after I got my first ever photos of a lynx spider (not inside my plot, but nearby) I found this one INSIDE my plot, and it sat nicely for me.
There are lots of different fly species that hang around the plot, but this is one of the smallest.
Just a few minutes after I photographed the lynx spider, I spotted it again (or another just like it), this time with one of those tiny flies in tow.
This metallic-looking jumping spider ALMOST stayed in the same place long enough for a photo. Even at 1/125 second shutterpeed, I wasn’t able to freeze the movement of this quick little bugger.
About a week after missing the first jumping spider photo, I finally got the same (?) spider to sit still long enough to capture this image.
There are two milkweed plants in my plot -butterfly milkweed and common milkweed – but this long-horned milkweed beetle wasn’t on either of them. It was on Maximilian sunflower, at least when I saw it.
This might be my proudest capture of this project to date, but only because I’ve seen lots of pearl crescent butterflies come into and through my plot, but most of them took off well before I got within photo range. For this photo, I had to stalk very carefully (and get really lucky).

A Plot-Sized Biodiversity and Photography Project

Today, I’m beginning a new photography project aimed at exploring and celebrating the small scale diversity and complexity of prairies.   I’ve picked out a 1 x 1 meter plot in a small patch of restored prairie here in Aurora, Nebraska, and I will be photographing everything I can within that tiny area over the next year or so.  My objectives are to find and document as much beauty and diversity as I can and to show the dynamic nature of prairie life, even at a very small scale.

Lincoln Creek Prairie, with the yellow flags marking my square meter plot.

The plot sits in a narrow strip of land restored in the 1980’s by Bill Whitney and Prairie Plains Resource Institute.  I picked Lincoln Creek Prairie because it’s right across town from me, and therefore easy for me to get to frequently.  It’s also a great restored site that was planted with a diverse mixture of prairie species (over 100 species) and is well-established.  However, the prairie is small enough that it doesn’t host any grassland-nesting birds or other animal species that need relatively large and open prairie habitats, and suffers from all the other issues that come along with tiny prairies.  I anticipate that most or all of the organisms I photograph during the coming year will be plants and invertebrates, but I’m confident that I won’t find a shortage of subject matter.

A view of the 1 x 1 plot from above

I didn’t pick the small plot randomly, but I also didn’t try to find a spot with more diversity than any other nearby.  Instead, I looked for a place that would catch the light well during most of the year but was out of the way enough to not be disturbed by people hiking the nearby trail.  I freely admit that I chose the exact location of the 1 x 1 plot because it has a butterfly milkweed plant in it – it’s a nicely photogenic species.  This isn’t research, after all, and I don’t have to select my plot in a completely unbiased way!  However, I’m confident that the 1 x 1 plot I chose is representative of the rest of the prairie around it.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) with a flower that never completely came out of its sheath last summer.

I began my photography journey within the plot yesterday, and took the photos you see here in this post.  I’ve already discovered one big challenge regarding my plans – it’s going to be difficult to avoid crushing or breaking the vegetation within the plot during my frequent visits.  I don’t see any way to avoid matting down the vegetation around the edge of the plot, but I’ll try not to do any more of that than necessary, and hopefully that won’t excessively impact what I see inside the plot.

The curled and dried leaf of stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)

Right now, the plot is fairly uniformly brown, and perhaps drab looking from a distance.  However, I didn’t have much trouble finding interesting shapes and textures to photograph during the 10 minutes or so I spent there yesterday.  Even without green vegetation or crawling invertebrates, there was plenty to look at.  That bodes well for the coming year, I think!  Stay tuned…

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) seed head, minus the seeds.  Birds, mammals, and/or other creatures likely picked it clean last fall.
A butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) seed pod on a curled stem.