Missouri’s prairies are unique places to view wildlife, beautiful blooms, and sweeping landscapes. The 1,680-acre Taberville Prairie Conservation Area, just north of El Dorado Springs in St. Clair County, is made up almost entirely of the Taberville Prairie Natural Area. At 1,360 acres, it’s the largest prairie natural area in the state and is a registered National Natural Landmark. It’s a remnant of the prairie ecosystem that once covered a large part of Missouri and is home to plants and animals that are specifically adapted for life on the prairie. I’ve seen shrikes impale grasshoppers on barbed wire spikes. I've seen a bobcat trot along an access road, darting into cover then back out in the open, reluctant to get his feet wet in the dewy grass before sunrise. I’ve seen scissortail flycatchers perched on fences, big bucks bounding across the prairie horizon, and groups of prairie chickens flush and scatter in a whirl of feathers at the sound of my approach. Taberville Prairie is a real gem.
While on a hike looking for wildflowers, I came across a big bunch of spiderwort, one of my favorite native plants. It’s planted around my house, and my family enjoys the vibrant blooms in spring and early summer. I naturally focused in on a clump of Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) and began to photograph different compositions.
While using a 16–35mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens to capture photographs of the prairie vista, an immature bush katydid and syrphid fly converged on the same plant. The sense of movement and life they brought to the flowers added a different dimension to the photos. I tried a 100mm macro lens, a typical choice for close-ups of tiny critters, but the resulting pictures lost their sense of place and looked as if they could have been taken anywhere. Switching back to the wide-angle lens and
getting very close allowed the focal point to remain on the flower while
the background of grass and sky kept the feel of the open prairie.
Spiderwort is not a self-pollinating flower, and has to rely on long tongued bees to reproduce. The flowers open up during the morning and close by afternoon in sunny weather, allowing pollen to be transferred from the male flower part (anther) to the female flower part (stamen). I asked Max Alleger, a Department grassland coordinator, if either the katydid or the fly could pollinate the flowers. (See Max's Grazing for Conservation story.) He said the syrphid fly on the right side of the photo appears bee-like and is a good mimic, but isn’t actually a bee at all and feeds on stray pollen. The katydid nymph (Scudderia) is herbivorous and any pollination on its part would also be accidental as it moves around the prairie.
Summer is a great time to visit the varied ecosystems of Missouri’s prairies.
—Story and photograph by David Stonner
We help people discover nature through our online Field Guide. Visit on.mo.gov/1M3cWgI to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler