Photo of the Week – September 12, 2014

It’s grasshopper season!

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

Vehicles driving through the prairie on a late summer morning are quickly covered with dew, grass pollen, and GRASSHOPPERS.

By the end of summer, most grasshoppers have completed their five or so molts and have become adults – complete with functional wings.   Now, as we walk and drive through our prairies, these fully-formed adult grasshoppers (along with katydids and tree crickets) seem to be everywhere.  They explode from our feet like popcorn – especially in areas of shorter vegetation.  And they’re hungry.  We see them feeding on sunflowers, goldenrod, grasses and almost every other kind of plant in the prairie.  As in other groups of species, the diversity of grasshopper species (108 species in Nebraska) leads to a diversity of feeding habits.  Some feed high in the canopy, others low.  Some feed mainly on grasses, others on forbs.  Some eat from a wide range of species, others from just a few.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower - an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

This grasshopper was feeding on the pollen of stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) – an apparent favorite of many adult grasshopper, katydid, and tree cricket species.

Another grasshopper species (probably) also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Another grasshopper species (probably) – also feeding on stiff sunflower.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Tree crickets get in on the stiff sunflower pollen feeding frenzy too.

Predators, of course, respond enthusiastically to the profusion of grasshoppers.  Rather than taking over the world, late summer grasshoppers become the targets of any creature that can catch up with them.  This includes birds, mammals, reptiles, and large invertebrate predators, but also tiny parasites and microbes.  To hungry predators, grasshoppers are just tasty machines that convert vegetation into protein-rich food – and they’re EVERYWHERE!

'Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator.  This katydid didn't like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

‘Hoppers and their kin, but they can also be skilled at keeping themselves hidden when they see a potential predator. This katydid didn’t like me sticking my camera lens in its direction.

The prairie is also a noisy place when grasshoppers, katydids, and tree crickets reach adulthood.  Much of the communication between these species is through sound, and it can be hard to hear the rustling of autumn prairie leaves in the wind over the buzzes and whines of insect courtship.

Besides leading females to males, that incessant insect noise acts as a warning to herbivore and predator alike…

“You’d better eat up now – winter is coming!”

 

Photo of the Week – September 9, 2011

This week our Platte River Prairies are in full autumn regalia.  Everywhere you look, big yellow composite flowers, especially sunflowers and goldenrods, dominate the visual landscape.  At least 15 different species of yellow flowers are blooming right now.  They are set against the golds and purples of the warm-season grasses, which are also in full bloom. 

Maximilian sunflowers have just started to bloom, joining a crowded field of five other sunflower species in our prairies. (Click on the photo to see it full-screen)

.

A grasshopper sits on one of the last remaining blossoms of stiff sunflower, an early blooming perennial sunflower - most common in the sandier soils of our prairies.

.

Our seed harvest crew is swimming through the tall grasses and late yellow flowers to find ripe seeds from shorter plants that bloomed earlier this year. In this photo, Mardell Jasnowski (left) and Nanette Whitten (right) look for black-eyed Susan seeds in the burned/grazed portion of a prairie. A light stocking rate and an unexpectedly wet season has left even this grazed area with plenty of tall growth.

.

The abundance of yellow makes flowers of any other color really stand out. In this photo, Mardell is harvesting seed near a particularly showy dotted gayfeather plant.

.

This cluster of Maximilian sunflower blossoms was arrayed nicely for a photo...

.

A tree cricket feeds on pollen from a stiff sunflower, while two grasshoppers do the same on another flower in the background. Tree crickets are omnivorous - feeding on both small insects and plant material.

In another week or so, some of the yellow flowers will start to fade, and the rest will be joined by the whites and lavenders of late season asters.  In the meantime, yellow is definitely the color of the week. 

Enjoy the autumn!