Monday, April 16, 2018

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: Hello, Predators!

Young researchers at the prairie conference on the Konza Prairie this year reported results that just make sense:  Invertebrate populations change as prairie restorations mature.  At first, new restorations are full of herbivorous insects, crop pests in particular--insects that move in from neighboring agricultural fields.   But as restorations mature, different insects arrive.

In the spring of 2017--Year 5 for our Creek Field restoration--I found bugs I had never seen before. 
Here is a pair of Jagged Ambush Bugs on the leaf
of a Golden Alexander, in the Creek Field,
April 2017.
  Despite appearances, they
are not mating.   Reproductive coupling is
accomplished by the male approaching the female
from the side.    Yet one bug often carries
another one around, as shown here.  

But what were they?  

To the naked eye they looked like bits of dead leaf caught on a growing plant.

A magnifying lens on my phone camera and helped me identify these tiny insects:  they were Jagged Ambush Bugs--an apt name, as their bodies are strange conglomerations of abrupt angles.  The genus is Phymata--but the different species of Phymata are hard to identify.

"Phymata" means "swollen" and refers to the bulbous front legs.

 Those bloated femurs
look like crab claws! These bugs are
on Daisy Fleabane in the Creek Field, April 2017.
Here Phymata engage in double stacking.   Some believe this behavior is a form of mate-guarding; others that the two are hunting together.  

Creek Field, April 2017.

The enlarged front legs help Phymata catch prey.  The front legs are so different from the other four!

Phymata on Golden Alexander in the Creek Field, April 2017. 
Note how different the front legs are from the back ones.

Here are Phymata looking like dinosaurs.

Though I first saw these bugs in the Creek Field in the early spring, I also found them in the wetlands in the fall:  

Phymata on Hairy Aster, September 2017.

When I noticed a fly caught on Swamp Milkweed in the wetlands, I expected, upon closer examination, to find a crab spider as the culprit.   But then I saw the swollen femur....
A Jagged Ambush Bug holds a fly with its
swollen front leg.  Swamp Milkweed
in the
Wetlands, September 2017.
Among the ranks of invertebrates at Bird Runner, carnivores are starting to balance the herbivores.     

The restorations are growing up!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Burrowopolis 2: Possum Persistence

I had hoped to see Mama Possum emerging with little ones clinging to her fur.

But the youngsters appear to be already well grown and moving about on their own.

I love their snazzy black-and-white colors!  

And I love the persistence with which they move about in the world, despite the lowliness of their station.

Suffering from grandiosity?  Take two possums and you'll be fine.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Who was living in the well-made burrow in the creek bank?

A trail cam answered the question.  

Some were residents, some were neighbors.

Some had handy tails--good for carrying nesting-material, leaving mouths free for eating and paws for climbing.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Birds Name Our New Year

At our house we name each new year for the first bird we see on January 1.  But this year I forgot to wait for Ron before I inadvertently looked out the window and saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker at the birdbath.  Then Ron came to the window and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  

We could combine both birds and call it just "The Year of the Woodpecker."   But a compound name will better convey the richness of the ecosystem we are part of here on McDowell Creek/Tall Grass Prairie/Planet Earth!    So okay--it's the Year of the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Maybe that long & complex title can remind us that environmental blessings can be doubled if we will only look.  

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Crow World, Hawk World

A trail cam allowed us to see crow behavior up close as the crows gathered to feed on the carcass of a deer.

Some of the crows with larger bills big-belly around--but they make themselves scarce when the hawk arrives!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mice Run In, Mice Run Out

After filling our freezers with venison, our hunter-friends left deer carcasses where scavengers could get to them.  

We expected hawks and crows.

We didn't expect mice! 

The mice puzzle me.  They spend so much time running around.  What is the point of all that energy-expenditure?

What are they up to?

I am reminded of the gross humor of my childhood, as we kids started on the long journey of coming to grips with mortality.  We'd hoot at each other:  You'll be in a grave!    Then we'd all join in, chanting:
The worms crawl in
The worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle
On your snout...
Over sixty years later, I still don't have mortality figured out.  
But these mice seem perfectly willing to play pinochle!
However, they seem that way to me because I have so much to learn about mice.  I asked Mammalogist Drew Ricketts at KSU to help me understand what we see in this clip.  He replied:  
Mice have pretty high metabolisms relative to ours, and they also have small stomachs, so they spend a lot of time zipping from place to place in search of something to eat.  Mice also have to move relatively quickly when they are in the open, so that they can try to avoid becoming a snack for a predator.  A slow, lingering mouse would quickly become a dead mouse.  They also could be grabbing a bite so quickly that it is hard to see in the video.  Animals also tend to check on large resources, because they are important to them.  Finally, carcasses attract predators and would be a dangerous place for a mouse to be.  It is possible that the mice smell evidence of predators that have visited the carcasses, and have a hard time feeling comfortable.

Some mice are very omnivorous, and some mice have very specific diets.  The mice in the video are white-footed mice, and they eat a lot of different things.  They probably don’t spend a lot of time looking for carrion, but, when it is placed in their home range, it is probably a resource that they can’t resist.  

Thank you, Drew!  Experts who are willing to share their expertise with us lay people are the best!!!  You help open doors that would otherwise remain closed to us.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017