Friday, December 28, 2018

Phymata Stood Out during the Drought Summer

This Phymata nymph is on the disk flowers of
Echinacea purpurea.  He appears to smile,
and I smiled to see him!  Creek Field, July 2018.
This handsome Phymata struts his stuff on a
Rosinweed leaf.  Creek Field, July 2018.
 So many plant species were inhibited by the drought in the summer of 2018--not bothering to bloom or even appear at all. However, others responded to the dryness through extra production of blossoms--as if they might never get the chance to reproduce again.   Three species in that latter category were Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), and Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbium marginata), all in our bottomland prairie restoration here on McDowell Creek, in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  
Check out the enlarged femur on this
charmer's front leg!  "Phymata" means
"swollen"--a good description of that muscular
front leg designed for grabbing prey. 
Creek Field, July 2018.

And on every blooming plant, there was a Jagged Ambush Bug!  The presence of Jagged Ambush Bugs (Phymata spp.), and other carnivorous insects, is an indicator of a maturing prairie restoration, so I was happy to see them.   I only hope there were plenty of prey-insects to sustain them and allow them to reproduce successfully.  

Jagged spines and juts
Snagging sunlight turned to meat
by unwary bugs.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bee Balm Bistro 1: Three Wasps Walk into a Bar....

On July 15, 2018, this very large wasp came to dine at the Bee Balm Bistro.  Isn't (s)he a beauty?  Check out that yellow belt and those smoky-blue wings!

Thanks to, I learned that this visitor is  Euodynerus crypticusa mason wasp.

Nesting in small colonies, E. crypticus digs a vertical burrow in the ground, sometimes bringing water from elsewhere to soften up the soil.  The eggs are laid in individual cells, sealed off with clay, and furnished with caterpillars, which provide a ready-made meal for the larvae when they hatch.  This species specializes in the caterpillars of skipper butterflies.... 

Despite having started out life sipping caterpillar innards, this adult E. crypticus obviously likes the nectar which Bee Balm has to offer!

At that same time several individuals of a second species of mason wasp came to sample the libations at the bistro.  

This wasp is resilient.  (S)he comes right back after being shoved away by E. crypticus.  

A braconid wasp also came for the bistro's food and drink.   Maybe she is also looking for a caterpillar or beetle on which to lay eggs.  


Friday, July 20, 2018

Echinacea Eatery, Part 1: The Perils of Pollinators!

I took this video in hopes of helping with identification of the butterfly which I found nectaring on Purple Cone Flower next to McDowell Creek.  I didn't even see the predators until I got home and put the clips on my computer.   In the first two clips, you can see a Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata sp.) in the lower right hand side of the disk-florets.  (You can tell Phymata by their conglomeration of shapes and enlarged front legs--green in this case!)  

Next, a crab spider appears (Misumenoides formosipes).  I can't believe that with the naked eye I didn't even see the spider stalking the butterfly!   The butterfly (turned out to be a Silvery Checkerspot) leaves just in time.  However, the final clip shows other, smaller insects moving around inside the flower disk.  The spider's day isn't over yet.

Both the Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea) and the Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) like moist prairies and streamsides.  Despite the drought, E. purpurea is flourishing and numerous, not only in the stream buffer where this drama took place, but throughout the prairie restoration in our Creek Field.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Restaurant Rosinweed, Part 1

 This gorgeous beetle--Flat Headed Baldcypress Sapwood Beetle(Acmaeodera pulchella)--was perched on the just-opening flowers of Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) in our Creek Field prairie restoration on July 17, 2018.   

(Thank you,, for the identification!)

The larvae feed on cypress, locust, and hawthorn.   By far the most likely host plant for this individual was one of the numerous Black Locust or Honey Locusts along McDowell Creek.

The adults feed on shrubs, trees, or--as here--flowers!

In fact, this one had his head buried in the blossoms to the point that I never got a chance to see if it really is "flat."

I was struck by the differences between his thorax and wings--and the strange perforations in his wings.  His wings look porous--like Triscuit crackers.

He has a look-alike cousin (Acmaeodera mixta) that apparently can be distinguised only by the colors on the wing tips.  A. pulchella's are all black; A. mixta's are mixed with yellow.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Milkweed Metropolis Part 3

Look at how many creatures come to take the sun's energy, converted by the milkweed into pollen and nectar,  into themselves!  (And in the case of male Tachinid flies, they also come to meet the ladies.)   

This is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca),blooming in our Creek Field, on June 18, 2018:

Compare the above with a neighboring plant, where the buds haven't opened yet.  Since the nectar isn't available, it's pretty quiet:  

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Halloween Pennants on Ragweed Stalks in Prairie Restoration

I found these striking orange dragonflies in the toe of the Creek Field, on July 11, 2018.

My field guide quickly identified them as "Halloween Pennants"--so named because of their orange color and their habit of perching at the top of a plant, with wings and abdomen extended like a pennant in the breeze.  Their Latin name is Celithemis eponina.  

The two I found were perched atop last year's ragweed stalks, and they had all they could do to keep from blowing away in the wind, banner and all.

I was happy to find them in the prairie restoration!   They lay their eggs in water, and for that they could use McDowell Creek, just a wingbeat or two away.  The newly hatched larvae are aquatic and carnivorous.  But the adults need to eat flying insects, and to get flying insects, you need a variety of plants.  I am happy that even in this drought year there is water in the creek and a variety of blooming plants in the Creek Field.  

Since I am finding adult dragonflies in the Creek Field, I am eager to see if I can find their aquatic larvae in the creek!  

Monday, July 9, 2018

Eastern Amberwing in Creek Field

Add caption
The red-orange stigmata on the wings are striking!
This is the tiniest dragonfly I've ever seen!  

It is a male Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera), clinging bravely to a seed of Shepherd's Purse, in the toe of the Creek Field.  

The wind was fierce!

Amberwings eat even tinier flying insects and lay eggs in still parts of bodies of water.

Some years McDowell Creek is churning and swirling--no still parts.    Though our current drought is cruel to so many creatures, it has slowed down the creek and created many quiet puddles--just right for Amberwings.  

This clip shows my little guy hanging onto Shepherd's Purse, pumping his abdomen and waving his wings.   Amberwings are wasp-mimics: presumably, the threat of being stung makes predators back off!  But I'm not sure if we're seeing his wasp-imitation or just a wind-whipped balancing act!

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!

In the spring of 2017--Year 5 for our Creek Field restoration--I found bugs I had never seen before.  They turned out to be indicators of maturity in a prairie restoration.

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

But a magnifying lens and a post to helped me identify them as Jagged Ambush Bugs.  The name is apt, as their bodies are strange conglomerations of abrupt, protruding 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.
Phymata engage in double stacking.  It looks like mating but isn't, as actual mating occurs when the male approaches the female from the side.   Some believe double-stacking is a form of mate-guarding; others that the two are hunting together.  

Creek Field, April 2017.

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.
The out-sized, muscular front legs help grab a prey.

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.

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.