Saturday, June 16, 2018

Return of Burrowopolis!

The usual inhabitants are still there--but there is a whole new set of passers-by!

A trail-cam caught these residents and neighbors around a burrow in the south bank of McDowell Creek.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tiny Fish in McDowell Creek

I am learning more about the creek fish this year.  That's hard to do in wet years, when the creek is raging and in flood, but this is a dry year.  The creek is shallow and calm and the fish are easy to see.  

Experts have helped me identify some of them as Red-bellied Dace that swarm in riffles and pools.  

 But the Dace change a lot as they grow from fry to adult.  I am hoping knowledgeable people will tell me if the photos and clips I have here are all of Dace--or are there other species mixed in?  

These tiny fish jump into the air, leaving circular wakes when they land back in the water.  At first I thought they were feeding on the insects swarming overhead or swooping low to lay their eggs in the water.   

But on closer inspection, I saw that's not what they're doing.  These fish feed by nosing around underwater stones and gulping the algae that covers immersed objects. 

So what is the jumping all about? 

I found one tiny fish floating dead in a pool.  Finally I had a photographic subject who stayed still!  Here are some of his pictures:

Is this a Red-bellied Dace?  Or is it a different species altogether?

I am hoping people who know fish will share their knowledge with me!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Plains Clubtail in the Roadfield

It was a fiercely windy day--May 17, 2018. 

This little guy needed all six legs to hang on.

Ron spotted him first and then talked me to where the gorgeous insect was clinging to a dead stalk.  It took me a while to see him, as he blended in with last year's vegetation.

We marveled at his black and yellow markings and tried to get a few photos, despite the wind. 

We knew he was a dragonfly but weren't sure what kind.  

Photos would help with the ID.  We compared our photos to the ones in Dragonflies through Binoculars, and realized that we had been visited by a Plains Clubtail, Gomphus externus.     

This photo shows the club tail for which this dragonfly is named--and the "epiproct" (that middle appendage on the last abdominal segment) between the two pincer-like appendages (called "cerci").  This individual's black legs and the fact that the epiproct extends beyond the cerci identify him as male.  

Plains Clubtails range throughout the Great Plains in wetlands and flood plains, along slow-moving streams.  The adults feed on other insects and the aquatic nymphs on insects, tadpoles, and even fish.

Our little guy may have been headed for McDowell Creek!   Let's hope he reached it when the wind died down.  

(Reference:  Sidney W. Dunkle.  Dragonflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America.  Ed. Jeffrey Glassberg.  Oxford UP, 2000.)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Milkweed Metropolis! Part 2.

The neatest thing about prairie restoration is all the life that comes in when exotic plants are replaced with native ones.  It's not that we conjure it up.  It's more that we remove the non-native, monocultural barriers, and then LIFE comes flooding in!   I trained a camera for a few minutes on a patch of common milkweed that now stands where invasive crown vetch used to be.  Then I tried to learn from what I found!

The camera showed quite a throng of nectar- and pollen-lovers, as well as a few creatures that might dine on the diners. A few were old acquaintances; I enlisted the generous help of to identify the others. That's a wheel bug nymph going up the stem, and a leather-winged beetle among the red-eyed tachinid flies. (There were no monarch caterpillars on this profusely blooming plant--it wouldn't have been safe for them with all those parisitoids around!) The video shows a male eastern black swallowtail ceding ground to a beetle, while a banded hairstreak sips nectar amid the flies. In two separate clips, if we look closely, we can see why that fly in the center isn't moving: there are well-camouflaged spider legs beneath it. Two tachinid flies hook up, and tiny iridescent green jewel beetles wander about. Ants swarm on a dead moth, and unidentified others (a tiny lady beetle? a crane fly?) put in appearances.   Thanks again to for help with identification!   And yet behind and around all the identified ones are unidentified winged- and crawling creatures still in the realm of mystery.  So much still to be discovered!

Milkweed Metropolis!

The Leatherwing displays his handsomely marked
hardened forewings, which gives him his name.  In Latin
his name is Chauliognathus marginatus.  
Many thanks to for identifying the beetles and the flies for me--and so quickly, too!

 A Margined Leatherwing (one of the Soldier Beetles), enjoys the nectar and pollen of Common Milkweed.  

 Here he displays his dark, membraneous
hind wings.  Hardened forewings
plus membraneous hindwings help
to distinguish beetles from other insects.

5-8 visible abdominal segments are another
characteristic of beetles.

Tachinid flies of the tribe Dexiini also enjoy the nectar of milkweed flowers.   

Tachinids lay eggs on other insects.  

Their larvae hatch and feed first on non-essential tissues, keeping the host alive while the larvae grow;  but ultimately they kill their host.  This practice gives Tachinids the name "parasitoids," not "parasites."  Parasites feed on their hosts without killing them.  

These red-eyed Dexiinids are slurping up nectar--but they may also be keeping an eye out for scarab or long-horned beetles--their preferred nursery hosts.   

These tiny iridescent green beetles are (per in the genus Agrilus in the Buprestid (Metallic Wood-boring Beetle) family.   

 They are called "Jewel Beetles" or "Flat-head Borers."  Though dead wood is a preferred food, some also dine on broad-leaved plants.  "Flat-head" is a good name for them.  The head-and-thorax appear blocky, especially compared to the elongated, tapering abdomen.

Photos by Margy Stewart, Creek Field Riparian Buffer, June 7, 2018

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.

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 that closer examination would reveal 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.