By Boak Wiesner
Summer has settled on us and with it a veritable feast of color on the prairie. Everywhere I turn, colors, especially purples and gold, greet my eyes. Clouds and sunny skies alternate overhead, lighting them in different ways.
It’s not merely the flowers that show these colors but some insect visitors, too. On some Prairie Blazing Star what looks like a wasp at first glance turns out to be a Hoverfly. Its coloration perhaps serves to keep predators away; hence, it’s a mimic.
I had to look closely to see the little gold flowers of Big Bluestem. These are pollinated by the wind and soon tiny, like, really tiny seeds will develop. A grass that dominates the prairie, gardeners and landscapers are returning to it for use in low-maintenance plantings. It’s quite nutritious, too.
Here’s a flower whose scientific name, Sun’s Eye, is sadly not its common name: Oxeye. The dark abdomen on the bee tells me it’s probably some kind of Leafcutter bee, an important pollinator around these parts.
Something big flits near, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The blue scales on the back edge shows she’s a female. And another big-winged thing lands near me, a Monarch. The first nectars with open, fluttering wings, the latter with its wings closed.
Late in my walk, I come across a new species to me, a very large black and gold bumble bee, which, I’m not surprised to find out, is its actual name.
Many groups around our area are surveying bees, whose numbers are suffering due to a variety of factors, such as the use of some pesticides and climate warming. Considering how many native and agricultural plants require specific kinds of bees and their allies to be pollinated, their work can’t come too soon.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist Volunteer