Prairie Bugs and Blooms

“Most children have a bug period. I never grew out of mine.” — E.O.Wilson

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As the curtain falls on June, rains and heat coax the prairie into luxuriant growth.

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Pale purple coneflowers, white wild indigo, and carrot-colored butterfly weed along with a suite of June’s other familiar wildflowers rampage across the prairie. I marvel at them as I hike. More unusual finds, like bunch flower and its suite of tiny flies and beetle pollinators, are a reason to drop to my knees in wonder.  Flora of the Chicago Region gives it a “10” as its coefficient of conservatism.

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Not far from the bunchflowers, the prairie lilies are in bloom. Another “10!” Such startling color. Somehow, the deer have missed munching on them this season. See if you can find the tiny crab spider.

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An umbrella paper wasp ignores me as it concentrates on an architectural project.

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Prairie coreopsis is a magnet for pollinators. Bees, wasps, moth caterpillars, flies, and beetles can’t resist its bright flowerhead, brimming with nectar and pollen. I love its sunny yellow flowers, a lift for my spirits.

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Wildflowers are the main event on the tallgrass prairie at the end of June. But today, I’m looking for dragonflies and damselflies.  Bugs? Pollinators? Not exactly.  Although they are in the Class Insecta, dragonflies and damselflies aren’t true bugs (Hemiptera)-–rather, they are part of the order Odonata. Although they don’t pollinate plants, dragonflies and damselflies are an important part of the prairie. I don’t have to look hard for them; the prairie is alive with different species in myriad patterns and colors. Some fly up out of the grasses as I hike. Others quietly perch, motionless.

Hello, Halloween pennants! Good to see you back on the prairie again.

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The black saddlebags dragonfly patrols in circles, silhouetted against the summer sky…

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…but I caught this one in a moment of rest.

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Common green darners are….well…common, but I still admire the patterns—that bull’s eye spot!—and coloration that makes them so distinct from any of their kind. Some say green darners look like cyclops. This female is unmistakable.

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In Willoway Brook, the ebony jewelwing damselflies flutter; looping in and out of the tallgrass to swipe smaller insects for breakfast.

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Every wildflower and grass stalk is a potential perch for an Odonate.  Widow skimmers. The blue you see on their wings is pruinescence, and gives it that startling contrast.

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Eastern amberwings hang out on leadplant. This one’s a female! Pretty.

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Male blue dashers watch for prey.

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A 12-spotted skimmers dragonfly basks in the sunshine, trying to regulate its body temperature, which it takes from the temperature around it.

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So many wonders! And summer on the prairie has only just begun.

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It’s going to be an amazing season.

******

The opening quote is from E.O. Wilson’s  (1929-) Naturalist. His blindness in one eye from a childhood fishing accident led to his study of ants, which as “little things” were easy for him to focus on. Today, Wilson is recognized as the world’s leading authority on ants. He won several Pulitzer Prizes (1979, 1991) and the U.S. National Medal of Science (1976) among many other awards; he was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in 1995. Thank you, John Heneghen, for loaning me Naturalist. A very enjoyable read.

*****

All photos taken at the Schulenberg Prairie at the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL, unless otherwise noted (top to bottom): bunch flower (Melanthium virginicum); prairie lily (Lilium philadelphicum); umbrella paper wasp–dark paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus); prairie coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata); halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina); common black saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata); common black saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata); common green darner dragonfly, female (Anax junius), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata); widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa); eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera); blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis);  12-spotted skimmer  dragonfly (Libellula pulchella), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and daisy fleabane (one of the Erigeron species, probably strigosus but possibly annuus). Note that many people consider daisy fleabane a weed; although common, it is a cheerful little native with many benefits to insects.

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Join Cindy for online dragonfly classes and online prairie ecology and ethnobotany classes:

“Dragonfly and Damselfly Beginning ID Online” through The Morton Arboretum. July 8 and July 10 –two morning classes online, with a day in between for you to work independently in the field, then bring your questions back for help. Register here.

“Prairie Ethnobotany Online” –through The Morton Arboretum. July 31 and August 7, 9-11 a.m. with a week  in between to enjoy your knowledge in the field. Learn about how people have used and enjoyed prairie plants through history. Register here.

“Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online” begins a new session in September! Work from home at your own pace (with suggested assignment deadlines) for 60 days to complete the material, and meet other prairie volunteers and stewards on the discussion boards and in the optional ZOOM session. Register here.

Just released! Chasing Dragonflies: A Natural, Cultural, and Personal History. Order now from your favorite indie bookstore such as the Morton Arboretum Store and The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, or online at bookshop.org and other book venues. Order direct through Northwestern University Press and receive 25% off — use coupon code NUP2020 and see the information below. Thank you for supporting small presses, bookstores, and writers during this chaotic time.Preorder Savings Chasing Dragonflies (1)

Want more prairie? Follow Cindy on Facebook, Twitter (@phrelanzer) and Instagram (@phrelanzer). Or enjoy some virtual trips to the prairie through reading Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit and The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction.  

6 responses to “Prairie Bugs and Blooms

  1. Congratulations on another new book, Cindy! Woohoo!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Paula! I’m excited. 🙂 This week, Northwestern University Press is offering 40% off the book! Just use code SUN40 on their website. Thanks, as always, for reading the blog! I’m grateful. — Cindy 🙂

      Like

  2. Robertson Family

    Hello,

    Just wanted to say thank you for your lovely posts. And I learned a new word today—pruinescence! Best wishes.

    Vickie Robertson Bloomington, Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalist member

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This next week looks like a scorcher! Cindy, I’d like a post on what You wear while working in the prairies. Your bag of necessities, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great question, Mike! Believe it or not, I have a whole chapter in “The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction” devoted to what to wear on the prairie (I kid you not!). Chapter 11 is “How to Stay Comfortable on the Tallgrass Prairie.” Northwestern University Press is offering it at 40% off right now — jut use CODE SUN40 if you order direct from them. At a minimum, lightweight pants in summer (I like REI tear-away hiking pants), light-weight long sleeved shirt over a synthetic breathable short-sleeved shirt (I like REI’s stuff, because it isn’t as expensive as some of the more pricey clothing like Columbia and Patagonia, and I’m a long-time fan of REI and their generous return policies and year-end rebates). A hat — I wear my Dodger’s ballcap. If bugs are a big issue, a headnet and I also have a breathable thingie (looks like a headband) that fits around my neck that I don’t think REI sells anymore, but protects my neck from bugs without being hot. I wear knee-high rubber boots, but hiking boots are better if sharp objects are an issue. I tuck my pants into my boots (for tick protection.). Water — always — I wear a day-pack with a hydration bladder built into it so I can drink without the nuisance of a bottle. (REI again) Bug spray? Check. Sunscreen? Check. If brushcutting, I always wear safety glasses. If tough brush or brambles, I wear jeans, although they are not good in this kind of weather (cotton is the worst — if you get wet from dew working in the early morning, it will not dry. But it is good if you have brambles or tough brush). I have a pair of Carhartt overalls (insulated) for winter work, but I don’t do a lot of work in the winter.
      Hope this helps! Would love to hear from readers what they wear. Mike, what about you?
      Grateful for you reading so faithfully, and your always-encouraging comments. Stay cool out there and Happy Fourth!
      Cindy 🙂

      Like

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