Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A day at Spring Green Preserve!

"In summer the empire of insects spreads."

― Adam Zagajewski

Prickly Pear Cactus

A day off in the middle of the week is a perfect opportunity to visit Spring Green Preserve and see how summer's insects are coming along. The sandy trails attract an amazing diversity of creepy-crawlies in the form of various ants, beetles, bees, butterflies, spiders, and more. Naturally, there are prairie birds galore and Grasshopper Sparrows remain the dominant avian voice. Companions included Lark Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Orchard Orioles, Eastern Meadowlarks, Eastern Bluebirds, among others.

Grasshopper Sparrow

It rained the previous night and I was first to walk the trails as the sun's rays broke above the horizon and through patchy clouds. Well, I may have been the first human in the morning, but I wasn't the first trail traveler since the rain to leave footprints in the sand. In addition to mammal and bird tracks, there were also little squiggly patterns, lines of dots, and other interesting impressions representing the business of survival at the desert prairie. What left these traces of life? I could narrow some of them down to a bug, bird, or beast, but not much else.

Raccoon? Badger?

The temperatures were cool and ground still moist from the rain. This would work to my advantage as it kept many butterflies on the ground as they extracted nutrients in moisture from the damp soil. And then as the vibrant insects detected the sun's warmth, they began to open their wings to collect solar energy to help warm themselves.

Edward's Hairstreak

American Copper

American Copper

Smaller insects now have double the trouble to contend with. As if tiger beetles weren't bad enough, ferocious robber flies search and scan the trails for prey. John Ruskin once remarked in disgust at the darkness, barbarity, and evil workings of nature ... he might as well have been referring to robber flies. Once they've captured a prey item, they stab it with their proboscis, releasing neurotoxins and proteolytic enzymes that paralyze their victims and digest the insides; the robber fly then sucks the liquified insect material for nourishment.

Robber Fly (Laphria divisor)

Robber Fly (Proctacanthella cacopiliga)

Robber Fly (Proctacanthus hinei)

The tiger beetles didn't emerge until after the sun had sufficiently warmed the ground. There were four species observed: Oblique-lined, Festive, Punctured, and Big Sand. I was hoping to find a new member of Cicindelinae to my bug list, but I'm never one to pass up on getting new photographs of old favorites, especially Big Sand Tiger Beetle.

Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle

Festive Tiger Beetle

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

My biggest thrill of the day came when I finally managed to get decent photographs of a Sand Wasp, Bembix americana to be precise. I've seen these dramatically colored wasps ever since my first visits to the preserve nearly a decade ago, but they've been too quick and sneaky for me. Until now! Tiger beetles are bad enough, but these guys are super tough because they're almost always on the move. Naturally, they're predatory and use small insects for their larva burrows.

Sand Wasp (Bembix americana)

What's a small bug to do faced with omnipresent danger?

Sand Wasp (Bembix americana)

Well, some strategies rely on heavy armor...

Dung Beetle

And others utilize stealth and camoflague...

Wolf Spider

If the insect and spider realm is just too spine-chilling, there's always innocuous beauty to be discovered in the preserve's fantastic assortment of wildflowers. I was a little disappointed that I missed Goat's-rue this summer, but there are still many other beautiful wildflowers yet to be appreciated this season.

Clustered Poppy-mallow

Clustered Poppy-mallow


Spring Green Preserve

And how to celebrate my victory over the Sand Wasp?

Spring Green General Store

A delicious lunch at the Spring Green General Store! Their Greek Salad with Lemon Tahini dressing is my longtime favorite. Add a cold glass of lemonade and life is grand!


All images © 2015 Mike McDowell

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