By Boak Wiesner
Over the last few days, I noticed a certain light perfume in the air and, after some closer investigation, I realized that it was the smell of basswood trees in bloom. It seems that all the them around have burst into flower at once making the hot, humid air is redolent with their aroma. Basswoods are one of the important trees in the climax forest community in our “Big Woods” subsection. The Minnesota River valley bisected this huge forest that once stretched continuously from the mouth of the Clearwater River all the way down into the southern counties of southern Minnesota. And most of it’s long gone to the saw mill and the plow.
A dark butterfly greeted me when I stopped near the prairie. It was a Common Wood Nymph. It followed me out onto the prairie and then used its straw-like proboscis to suck up the sweat from my arm. I’ve heard of porcupines chewing up canoe paddle grips for the salt but this? Identifying organisms is so much easier when they are up close. Later it crawled around on my neck and face. A Great Spangled Fritillary flew over the prairie, the silver spots on it underwings shining in the noon day sun.
“Helter-skelter in the summer swelter…”; Don McLean’s words characterized well the behavior of dragonflies as they darted about at high noon over the prairie. At one point, in the air up the hill from me, a squadron of over a dozen .were patrolling for flying insects for brunch. One horsefly pestering me met its demise in the grasp of one of the many dragonflies whizzing around. A couple perched for me long enough to snap their photo.
The Halloween Pennant is named for its unmistakable orange-and-black patterning. Note its field mark of how its holds its wings when perched, that is, one set up and one set down.Skimmers do just what their name implies: they skim over the top of the prairie plants hunting for prey. It seems that there are more dragonflies around these days than butterflies, perhaps because they’re insectivorous and therefore aren’t being affected by the new kinds of herbicides being applied to farm fields.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.