Driftless Prairies: Native Habitat Restoration

Nature inspires awe!

Insects in the Prairie

One morning I decided the first thing I would do would be to walk around the prairie and photograph the various insects I found. I found a number of them but sadly, there are so many insects that we know little to nothing about, yet they are crucial to our survival and quality of life. Here’s the results of that morning’s walk.
Augochlora Green Metallic Bee
 These guys are about 3/8” long. They dig their nests in dead wood or use pre-existing burrows of other insects. When laying eggs, the female creates a ball of pollen and nectar, then lays the egg on top of this. This ball is what the larvae use as nourishment. He’s gathering pollen from a Carolina Rose; these are great pollinators!
American Bumble bee (Bombus Fervidus)
 I love this picture as he’s flying right at me! I thought it was a cool angle to capture. Size can be 3/8 – 7/8” long, depending on whether the bee is drone, a worker, or a queen. Only the young, mated queens live through winter. The live and nest mostly above ground. When overwintering, the queen will dig into the soil and build honey pots and brood cells. Come spring, the drones are the first to hatch. Normally they go about their business with little trouble to others, but when defending their nests, they will pursue an aggressor for hundreds of yards. Another great pollinator!
Long-legged Fly (Condylostylus spp.)Dolichopodidae, Condylostylus
There preferred food is soft-bodied insects and spider mites. There is nothing known about the lifecycle of this fly. There are more than 40 species in this genus and only a specialist can truly identify which is which.
Dragon Lubber Grasshopper (Dracotettix monstrosus)
What’s this doing here?  Its range is supposed to be Southern California into Mexico. It could be misidentified but there isn’t anything in my Wisconsin Grasshopper guide that looks like this guy!! He’s about ¾” long, which is the short side of the size range. I wonder how they got the “lubber” name?
Lubber Grasshopper (Brachystola magna)
These little guys are 1 ½ – 3 1/8” long and are especially fond of sunflowers and ragweed, although they will scavenge carrion. It’s unsure whether they have a 1- or 2-year life cycle. Eggs are laid in the soil and will hatch after a soaking rain. Their habitat preference is rocky, gravelly, and sparsely vegetated areas; not sure why they’re in my prairie as it’s anything but sparse!! These grasshoppers retain quite a bit of moisture. I imagine if a bird or a bat would eat one of them, they wouldn’t need to look for a water source to wash it down!
Purplestriped Grasshopper (Hesperotettix viridis pratensis)
This medium-sized grasshopper is about ¾” long and likes dry prairies and sand barrens. There is little else known about this grasshopper.
Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) male
We usually have a nice selection of dragonflies even though we don’t have a pond on our property. They feed on flying insects, so I’m glad they are here helping the birds and bats to keep the fly and mosquito populations in check!
Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)
This butterfly, about 15/16” long, is one of the most ubiquitous. They love savannas and gardens and are nice pollinators. They have a strong, erratic flight but are considered graceful fliers. They are not native and considered “important pests.” Hmmmm…what does that mean?
Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
This is a very common and easily identified skipper, who gets his name because he “skips” from one flower to another. He loves gardens and woodland borders. Black locust are their favorite foods, but you won’t find these invasives on my land so it’s a good thing they also enjoy most types of legumes with a preference for blue, red, pink, or purple flowers. True to form, he’s enjoying a purple clover!
European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola)
This non-native little guy with a wingspan of 1 – 1 1/8” wide is a rather weak-flying yet common skipper. They like open grassy places where they can find low-growing nectar sources. The female lays her eggs in strings on their host plant, which is timothy and other grasses. They then overwinter and hatch in the spring. The caterpillars prefer to live in “sewn” together leaves; they use a silk-like substance. Since I don’t want timothy in my prairie, I’m glad they are here to eat whatever stalks of that grass they might find!
Silvery checkerspot (chlosyne nycteis)
This beautiful butterfly has a wingspan of 1 3/8 – 2”. The caterpillar loves sunflowers and rudbeckias in our prairie, while the butterfly prefers clover, milkweed, and dogbane. They prefer open spaces where the males perch and patrol for females. This guy was on our garage wall. Not sure what attracted him here when there’s so much of what he loves outside.
Favorite insect websites and books:
For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner
Marvel of Insect Life by Edward Step
Insect Lives by Erich Hoyt & Ted Schultz

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