We've been back in Arizona for about 10 days and we're nearly back to normal after our break in Illinois. My computer came back after being in the shop for 4 days - I lucked out as the display failure was evidently an internal disconnection, and SWS didn't charge me more than the $50 fee to diagnose the issue. Time to get back to my backups I need to do.
But first, time to close out some coverage of our Illinois stay. We enjoyed our visit tremendously - can't get too much of rainy weather (too rare in Arizona, even in our summer monsoon season!) and never too much of the green from the Midwest! Also loved the moderate temperatures, which stayed in the low 80s most days, much nicer than the 100+ we're now enjoying in Tucson. Fortunately the warm temps are drawing to a close in AZ, but "Ketelsen East" was a joy. I got out twice most days to ride my loop up at a local park that has a nice mile-long path at least partially through prairie restoration areas. At left is an image of one section showing the predominant population of Queen Anne's Lace, milkweed, purple coneflower and an assortment of yellow flowers. But the "queen" of the prairie, at least the first week of August, is Dausus carota.
So given the extent that they are everywhere you look in Illinois, I was surprised to rediscover from the above link and others that they are, in fact, an invasive species, native to temperate Europe, but not to North America. Still, they make an attractive addition to the roadsides and patches of prairie that now seem to be everywhere.
But their seasonal domain is ending as August progresses. Many of the flowers in the above right image are seen curling up into balls. As shown here at left, the flower consists of a multitude of tiny individual flowers, with the characteristic red one in the center - the "drop of blood" in Queen Anne's Lace... At right, the seed ball is seen in better detail, each one with little forky extensions to stick to passing animals or clothes to distribute the seeds.
Even as the lace declines, others maintain their presence. Abundant throughout are the purple coneflowers shown at left. Interestingly this is one of the few flowers I can think of that are both found wild in nature, and also cultivated in flower gardens. Folks don't plant dandelions, but coneflowers, likely because of their nice accent color and flower size, are liberally found through the area.
And among the multitude of yellow flower variants, the sunflowers and black-eyed susans, I was surprised to find on the Interwebs that the interesting flower at right is, in fact, a gray-head coneflower! So both of these flowers are related out of the aster family... They were quite striking with the yellow petals blowing in the wind like so many grass skirts...
So what is lined up to dominate the prairie patches in the coming month before the cooler weather of Fall descends? As I've mentioned before during our visits in September, large expanses of goldenrod hog the spotlight. They were just starting to pop during our visit, still a long way from dominating, but they are certainly on their way. Interestingly, even as they are starting to bloom, they are attracting a lot of activity. From the little bugs visiting the open flowers at left, there are certain plants that seem to attract a multitude of sap-sucking aphids shown at right. Seems like every 30 feet or so there would be a single plant or two just covered by aphids of all sizes. Perhaps the entire population grew from a single infestation, or perhaps they don't travel very far, but the populations were extremely localized. Their activity didn't seem to hurt the plant much, at least in their pre-blooming state.
And of course, it's a jungle out there - where you have insects like aphids, you have other insects that eat the aphids. While watching them carefully over a day or two, I noticed a couple of other interesting creatures, one of them with an aphid in its mouth! Both of these qualify as my weird bug of the summer! Last year it was the plant hopper that looked like a leaf, and the year before it was the two-spotted leafhopper. So these are in good company. Carl, the UA "Bugman" has stopped answering my emails about IDs (I think he retired), so I went on to BugGuide and registered and asked for an ID. The suggestions came in moments later - while I thought that these two bugs might be the same creature a couple days apart in development, the thinking is that they are different, and variations of a green lacewing larvae. If you are looking for an identification, I'm not sure you can do better than BugGuide to find it yourself or enlist the help of others...
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