Are you of an age where you can hear one of the 50’s, 60’s singing sensations grooving to the words of Little, Bitty, Pretty One? Keep that sound in your head, to distract you, as I make a case for beauty in many small creatures that grace the world around us. Iridescent blue Damselflies, creatively coloured Velvet Ants, creamy translucent Fairy Bees, multi-eyed spiders and other marvellous creations will appear as you scroll through this blog. As tempted as you may be to reach for the ‘fly swatter’ or simply turn and walk away see if you can as least find patterns in the colours and textures that are remarkable in their design.
Firstly, l want to get out of the way an obvious exception to my beauty mantra that few would argue doesn’t need a flick or a swat. I let this mosquito suck enough blood from my thumb to distend its abdomen. I held my camera with the other hand, took some pictures and then squished it before it was able to fly away.
For a couple of days last week, the weather was unbearably hot by 10 o’clock in the morning. A five o’clock alarm, a bowl of breakfast and my camera in hand pushed me out the door into the still cool air. I hopped on my bike and headed out to a conservation area 15 km. south of Saskatoon on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Cranberry Flats, as the area is known, has some unique features with exposed sand banks, native prairie flowers, shrubs and grassland that revealed a cornucopia of insects going about their early morning rituals.
This Damselfly put on its best blue dinner jacket, posed with perfect yoga-like balance, and allowed me to get closer and closer with my camera to record its outing. Wouldn’t you love to flip through your wardrobe and see such an intricately coloured and marvellously patterned garment with this unique shade of blue and a silken scarf with delicately patterned lines imitating the wings of this creature.
Reddish brown, white, black, and grey with tons of spiky hairs. Hearing that description, I’m not sure I would have come up with this design. Oh, to be as cleaver as Mother Nature with my design board and colour palette.
Hmmmmm…..What shall I wear today. Why don’t you use your orange-brown wing set, accompanied by your gorgeous cape with the black accent around the border. You don’t think it makes me look too much like a moth??? Oh, I don’t think so. Use your beautiful black and white banded antennae set. That club like end will make everyone think butterfly immediately. Also, they set off your gorgeous big eyes so nicely. Well OK… I’ll try it out and see if it attracts enough attention for the paparazzi to take some photos.
One of the most intriguing behaviours I found on this trip included four species of insects, digging tunnels in the sandbank where the vegetation was absent. The iNaturalist website helped me identify a number of these species. Some such as the Fairy Bees tend to forage on a very few species of plants. Others such as the Beewolf species are wasps that hunt bees, paralyze them, and use their bodies to incubate their eggs upon hatching. The Sand Wasp group also prey on other insects and use them as food for developing larvae in the tunnels they create in the sand.
This one is a Fairy Bee.
This one belongs to the Beewolf species.
This one is a Sand Wasp.
This red and black one was constantly on the move, making it difficult to get a non-blurry still picture. I believe this one is a wingless female wasp that looks more like an ant. It belongs to the Velvet Ant group of insects. It could really dig and soon disappeared into a tunnel.
This short video shows three species in action as they dig in the sand bank. This link will take you to a new window and then you can return to see the rest of the post.
This gorgeous purple, yellow and green plant was in full flower and seemed to attract a variety of pollinators. Purple Prairie Clover is native to this area and despite the heat and lack of moisture it seemed to be thriving.
There were many of these tiny grey and black insects foraging in the Clover. At first glance I did not see them but on closer inspection they were a prominent pollinator in these Purple Prairie Clover flowers.
Various bees were another common pollinator in these flowers.
Most readers will recognize the Prairie Rose as a common plant in our short grass prairie ecosystem. The plants in this area seemed stunted from the drought but still managed to pump out some gorgeous flowers.
Bee pollinators were certainly buzzing in and out of the flowers on this morning.
This Katydid or ‘Bush Grasshopper’ was sitting still enough for me to get reasonably close. I noticed the ridiculously long antennae as I was framing the shot but still did not manage to get the tip of one antenna. It soon bounced off into the greenery and I didn’t see it again.
This spider possibly belongs to the Arabesque Orbweaver group of spiders. It was a small dot in the middle of a web suspended between two plants and was impossible to photograph as it moved in the gentle breeze. It soon moved along the web and stopped in a folded leaf where I was able to get close enough to get an image.
Are you still humming Little, Bitty, Pretty One?