Friday, June 7, 2013

Prairie Bioblitz

We just returned from the Missouri Prairie Foundation's Prairie Bioblitz.  This year we explored Lattner and Denison Prairies located 10 miles south of Nevada, Missouri.  We had a choice of subjects below* to explore, each group led by an expert in the field.  With the deluge 24 hours before, the fields were somewhat soggy but the enthusiasm wasn't dampened.

Barb joined Justin Thomas to identify vascular plants of the prairie.  The fields were in full bloom, covered with species not normally found in forest and fields that have been altered by human activities.  Rattlesnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium, was everywhere, its distinctive long-haired leaves preparing the way for blooming, while lush grasses and forbs were knee high in clumps with occasional mammal trails coursing through them.  Sensitive briar, Mimosa nuttallii, its tiny flowers forming delicate globes tipped with yellow delighted the eye while watching its leaves fold up when touched entertained kids both young and old.

Sensitive briar
Rattlesnake master- Click pictures to enlarge

Only one percent of prairies remain, the rest either plowed for crops or converted to fescue.  They are one of the remaining natural homes of a variety of milkweeds.  Some require specialized soils like the sand milkweed, Asclepias amplexicaulis, found on these prairies.  These plants have a toxic milky sap which can pose a danger to livestock, but the leaves are essential food for developing Monarch butterfly larvae.  With the loss of milkweeds over large areas, Monarchs have to fly much further to lay their eggs and their numbers are in significant decline.

An aunt chasing ants
Finding and identifying ants in a thick prairie seems like a hopeless task but James Trager of the Missouri Botanical Gardens led us to 5 of the 6 common prairie ant species.  The trick is to lure them in with... tuna?  Don't laugh, it works.  He held the ants by their hind legs (yes, it can be done!) as he demonstrated their identifying features.  He was able to identify them from a distance when I couldn't even find them.  Since I have trouble handling a fork, I left picking them up to him.  We were able to see distinguishing anatomical structures with a hand lens.

Jamie with painted turtle
You might not expect to find amphibians on a prairie, but the thick vegetation is criss-crossed with small streams.  First order streams are dry except when rain runs off, but there are also puddles and ponds where the water remains full time.  The moist soil is home to many frogs, toads and turtles as well as tons of crayfish, some unique to prairies.  Many of the species were found by our dedicated staff of kids, like this prize painted turtle.

Patient painted turtle before swimming away
Yes, he is right side up.
Naturalist Madalyn and friend
Our herpetologist guide, John Miller from MDC, gets just excited as the kids.  He demonstrated frog calls as well as identifying them in the field.  Soon everyone was bent over, trying to catch the tiny cricket frogs in the tall grass.  Holding them by a front and hind leg on one side, we could carefully inspect them without harm.  Not all the adults were as anxious to hold them as the kids were.

Our Springfield Plateau Chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists partners with Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF) in preserving and expanding our prairie resources.

You can help by joining the MPF at,  and enjoying the warm feeling of preserving nature and maybe even coming out for next years' Bioblitz.

* This years topics
Vascular plants - Justin Thomas of the Institute for Botanical Training
Butterflies - lepidopterist Phil Koenig
Bees with Mike Arduser, insect heritage biologist with MDC
Fish and other aquatics _ Tom Priesendorf and Kara Tvedt, fisheries biologists with MDC
Planthoppers - Dr. Stephen Wilson, entomologist, University of Central Missouri, 
Small mammal - Dr. Vicki Jackson of the University of Central Missouri
Ants - Dr. James Trager of Shaw Nature Reserve 
Insect coloration - entomologist Richard Thoma
Bat talk followed by hike to detect bats
Moths with Phil Koenig
Nocturnal Insect Black Light Station
Star Gazing - Dan Johnson with the Astronomical Society of Kansas City
Bird mist netting with Dana Ripper and Ethan Duke of the Missouri River Bird Observatory, Bird walk with Bruce Schuette, MPF'
Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, hornworts) -bryologist Nels Holmberg, no max
Amphibians and reptiles - John Miller MDC.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article. We were sorry to have missed the BioBlitz this year!