Every summer, prairies across Missouri put on a fireworks show when riots of wildflowers burst into bloom.
With all those flowers, it’s no wonder prairies are abuzz with insects. Nearly 3,000 kinds of butterflies, bumblebees, beetles, and other bugs buzz about in Missouri’s best-quality grasslands. Bring a net to swish through the flowers and see how many kinds of insects you can catch.
Exploring a prairie is like walking through a rainbow. Flowers of every color - from flame-red paintbrush to cool-blue wild indigo - hide among the tall grasses waving in the wind. How many colors can you spot during your trip?
Sensitive brier is a low-growing prairie plant with prickly, vine-like stems and pink pompom-shaped flowers. If you find a patch of sensitive brier, try this trick. Touch the plant’s fern-like leaves, and you’ll see them quickly fold shut.
Prairies don’t have much shade, so wear a hat and slather on sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
May and June are great months to visit a prairie. Wildflowers are in peak bloom, and the weather hasn’t become face-melting hot. Here are a few perfect prairies to visit. Get directions at mdc.mo.gov/atlas.
Loggerhead shrikes are robin-sized birds with oversized attitudes. Although they normally prey on grasshoppers and small lizards, they aren’t afraid to attack animals as large as themselves. Lacking talons, this bird-of-prey wannabe often stabs its victims onto thorns or barbed wire for easier eating.
Baby spittlebugs suck sap from plants and turn it into spit-like foam. The bugs snuggle inside the slobber, safe from predators and the heat of the sun. Although the foam looks like spit, it’s not. It actually comes from a spittlebug’s other end.
Next time you sniff a flower, a sneaky spider may be hiding right under your nose. Crab spiders don’t weave webs to catch prey. Instead, they wait patiently on flowers, relying on camouflage to stay hidden. When a bee buzzes in, the spider pounces.
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill