Prairie Wetlands Almanac

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“Many of the events of the annual cycle recur year after year in a regular order. A year-to-year record of this order is a record of the rates at which solar energy flows to and through living things. They are the arteries of the land. By tracing their response to the sun, phenology may eventually shed some light on that ultimate enigma, the land’s inner workings.” 

--  Aldo Leopold, A Phenological Record for Sauk and Dane Counties, Wisconsin, 1935-1945 

Every day is a new day outdoors with surprises waiting for you to discover. Let’s go outside and explore what’s happening today!

Scroll to today’s date below for just one possibility of the delights and mysteries you could find in this part of the world and at this time of year. Then head out the door to your yard, neighborhood, local park, the PWLC, or other outdoor sites.

Be in the moment. Observe using all of your senses. Poke around. Chances are good that you’ll find much more than you expect and enjoy the opportunity to relax, move, and wonder about the world around us, the world we live in, the place we call home.

Feel free to share your photos and excitement with us on the PWLC Facebook page – we love to hear from you and see what you notice in nature! Other people will also be encouraged to seek out these simple, easy, and fun adventures as well. 



March 19 through March 31

April 1 through April 30 

May 1 through May 31 

June 1 - June 19



June 20 - June 30


July 1 - You can see your reflection shine in brilliantly colored dogbane beetles. How can there be so many of them when they are so easy to find? Turns out, dogbane beetles to dogbane are like monarchs to milkweed. Dogbane's milky, toxic sap provides the same chemical defense milkweed. This reverse camouflage strategy is known as aposematism in the animal kingdom.  (Source: University of Maryland-Extension web site)

July 2 - Little black butterflies are dancing across the prairie, common wood nymphs. The only accurate word in their name is "common." At first glance, they look solid black. On some lighter individuals though, you can see a series of eye spots, lines, and veins. Males seldom feed but females nectar on a wide variety of native wildflowers, as well as rotting fruit, sap, and wet shoes. Caterpillars eat big bluestem. (Source: Butterflies of the North Woods by Larry Weber)

July 3 - Tricky willow sawfly larvae look like caterpillars, but count those prolegs (stub legs). They have more than 5 pairs. These larvae are found in groups and eat willow and cottonwood leaves, leaving only the mid-rib. When alarmed, they lift and wave their back ends. Sawfly adults are stingless wasps. Females use a saw-like appendage to cut into twigs and lay eggs. (Sources: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eaton and Kaufman and the University of Minnesota-Extension web site)

July 4 - Firefly numbers peak in Minnesota around July 4. Have you marveled at the cool light of this nocturnal animal yet this summer? They create the most energy efficient kind of light ever made, called bioluminescence, where almost 100% of their energy is used to create the light, giving off almost no heat. Fireflies are flashy flirts, with females communicating from the ground to males on the fly. They are silently speaking the language of love with their blinking lights. How many different colors of firefly lights can you find? How many different blinking patterns? When catching fireflies, remember to release them right away so they can survive and mate. Adults only live for a few weeks. (Source: Mother Nature Network and Firefly web sites)

July 5 - The cute magenta and orange tutus of purple prairie clover bloom from bottom to top and grow in patches, often mixed with white prairie clover, a separate species. They are useful plants as well as beautiful because their deep roots help prevent soil erosion. Legumes, those same roots add nitrogen to the soil. The flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies and bees. Now is the perfect time to enjoy them.
(Sources: Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Runkel and Roosa and USDA NRCS Fact Sheet)

July 6 - Yet another kind of milkweed is blooming. It's tiny flowers have light pink nectar cups and dark pink petals. One of 14 milkweed species in Minnesota, it grows near or in wetlands. Many pollinators visit it including monarch butterflies, who also lay their eggs on the leaves. It is wonderful to see marsh milkweed again! (Source: Minnesota Wildflowers web site)

July 7 - We can learn delicate lightness from damselfies. Related to dragonflies but smaller, damselfies typically land with wings closed over their bodies. They spend more time perched in tall grasses, making short, gentle flights to pick off tiny insect prey including mosquitoes, flies, small moths, mayflies, and flying ants. (Sources: iNaturalist web site and Montana Field Guide web site)

July 8 - This is where it begins. Those oblong, brown, velcro seed pods that stick to shoelaces in fall start with white flowers blooming in summer. Wild licorice gets its name from its licorice flavored roots which has been used to flavor medicine, candy, root beers, and chewing tobacco, although not commercially (that was a non-native relative). (Source: Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Runkel and Roosa)

July 9 - Time to search for milkweed tussock moth caterpillars. Look at dogbane and milkweed for skeletonized leaves, then flip it over. The young, small, tan, bare caterpillars cluster together underneath to appear cryptic at a distance. Older "cats" have black, orange, and white hair and eat entire leaves. (Source: Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods by Jim Sogaard)

July 10 - Let's seek out porcupine grass in the prairie. It's a delicate, graceful tall grass that leans over and practically begs you to touch its ripe seeds. Gently pull one out and you are holding a 5 to 8 inch hooked, wiry corkscrew that will drill itself into the hard, dry soil in response to changing humidity and moisture conditions. This adaptation is an engineering marvel.

July 11 - Meet the flower flies, friendly, harmless little pollinators that mimic bees and wasps. Also called Syrphid flies, they may gently hover near us and around flowers, then suddenly dart away. Watch when they land how they bob their flattened abdomens. Some larvae prey on aphids and some adults eat the honeydew they secrete. (Source: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eaton and Kaufman and Insects of the North Woods by Jeffrey Hahn)

July 12 - Goldenrod galls have been forming since June. They're not as noticeable in summer when the prairie is so green, but we now have evidence that the goldenrod gall flies have been busy laying eggs as the goldenrod stems grow taller. Goldenrod senses a foreign body (the egg) in its stem and swells around it as the plant grows, forming the hard, protective, nutritious gall. Then the stem continues to extend above it. The eggs have likely already hatched, and the larvae will overwinter in the gall, emerging next spring.

July 13 - Meet the amazing beewolf, a solitary digger wasp that preys on bees! A mated female stings a bee and delivers it alive but paralyzed to her nesting chamber. She lays an egg on it, secretes Streptomyces bacteria from inside her antennae into the cell, then seals the chamber shut. Upon hatching, the larva eats the bee alive, and takes up the secreted bacteria, incorporating it into its cocoon, now shielded from infections. After pupating for 9 months, as adult females emerge, they first wipe their antennae on the outside of the cocoon, establishing their own bacteria to pass along to their offspring. This recently discovered symbiosis provides potential for new antibiotic strains to help humans fight infections. Thanks, beewolf!  (Sources: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eaton and Kaufman, PBS and Tangled Bank Studios web site, and FEMS Microbiology News)

July 14 - Play peek-a-boo today with painted turtles. How many can you count? As you visually skim the surface of a pond or lake, you might glimpse a small triangular head above the water. In those moments, painted turtles inhale enough air so they can remain submerged for up to 20 minutes! They spend most of their sunny mornings searching for food underwater and eating it there, because it is difficult to swallow their food dry. They eat aquatic insects and their larvae, snails, earthworms, fish, crayfish, frogs and their tadpoles, milfoil, algae and other aquatic plants, and carrion. Observe them from a distance with binoculars to avoid disturbing them. (Sources: British Columbia Ministry of Environment web site and Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela)

July 15 - Summer is a perfect time to bask in the sun with the painted turtles. After spending the morning underwater hunting and eating, they need to warm up in order to digest their food. They also need to dry out their shells to keep them healthy. So they spend their afternoons on logs and shores when the sun is hottest which elevates their body temperatures. Logs surrounded by water are perfect basking sites providing protection from predators and a full choice of escape routes. Preserving and restoring both prairies and wetlands helps painted turtles complete all of their life cycle stages as they move over land to nest, hibernate, bask, and hunt in other locations. (Source: British Columbia Ministry of Environment web site and Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela)

July 16 - The next generation of monarchs has been eclosing, that is, emerging from their chrysalises. Have you noticed more adult monarchs flying around lately? Here's how the caterpillars have pupated into those adults. Sometimes, a caterpillar forms its chrysalis on man-made objects like home siding, fences, or a bucket. Most of the time, the chrysalis looks green with gold specks, well-camouflaged. A day before the adult butterfly emerges, the chrysalis looks black. (The chrysalis is actually clear, though. It's the color of the pupa inside that changes from green to black and dark orange.) The mature monarch pupa emerges from the chrysalis after the skin splits open. Its new wings are soft, wrinkly, and short, still enlarging to full adult size. It is important for eclosing monarchs to have space for their wings to extend downward at this stage. New research indicates that insect blood or hemolymph continues to circulate through the wing veins in fully formed and flying adult monarchs.

July 17 - It's fun to discover so many kinds of milkweed. This short species has tiny white nectar cups and petals and long, slender leaves that grow in whorls around the stem. It can form colonies, and you can find it in dry, open prairies. Monarchs lay eggs on all milkweed species, including this one, whorled milkweed. (Source: Wildflowers of Minnesota web site)

July 18 - The sulfur knapweed moth is named for its yellow color and and for the plant it eats. This insect was introduced from Europe to help control non-native, invasive spotted knapweed. It is one non-native species that we want to see thanks to its biological control function. Larvae bore into the knapweed root, killing small rosettes and moving on to the next one. Strong fliers, they will invade other patches of knapweed. (Source: BugGuide web site)

July 19 - Some thistles are native and not invasive. Take Flodman's thistle, for example. It's shorter, whiter, and smoother than many other species. It has only one flower per stem, white-lined bracts, and deeply lobed leaves that are whiter underneath. Flodman's thistle provides nectar and pollen for many species of bees and butterflies plus owlet moths and hummingbirds. This is one thistle to recognize and keep for added biodiversity and beauty in the prairie. (Sources: Wildflowers of Minnesota and the Manitoba Museum web sites)

July 20 - Even from indoors, you can listen to male cicadas singing their love song to attract females, the loudest of all insects. They sound like a table saw, buzzing and high-pitched, coming from the tree tops. Annual or dogday cicadas are more often heard than seen. Males create their tune by a large muscle vibrating membranes located on the abdomen which echoes inside its body. They live for 2 to 5 years, spending most of their lives underground as nymphs, harmlessly sucking tree sap. Some annual cicadas emerge every year (unsynchronized).  (Source: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eaton and Kaufman)

July 21 - A summer prairie icon, leadplant, is in peak bloom. Move closer to appreciate its purple flowers with surprising orange-tipped stamens. This short shrub, only about 2 feet tall, has stringy tap roots that extend 14 feet down into the earth. What a perfect adaption for thriving in our sunniest, hottest, windiest, driest weather.

July 22 - Let's bob and bounce with the Halloween pennants across the open prairie. This dragonfly seems to love wind! It hunts, flies, and mates on the windiest days when other dragons lay low. It even flings drizzle off its wings and lays its eggs in white cap waves! Look for a small dragonfly with flashy wing patches and orange tinted wings. (Source: Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead)

July 23 - Wild bergamot is blooming, a prairie favorite! Also called Monarda (after Spanish physician and botanist Nicolas Monardes), it is pollinated by bumblebees and hummingbirds. Make sure to rub and smell its opposite leaves to enjoy its fragrant scent! Monarda makes a great addition to flower beds, is an important medicinal plant, herbal tea, and even deodorant scent. (Source: Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Runkel and Roosa)

July 24 - Wolfberry has been blooming most of the summer. Also called western snowberry and buckbrush, this short shrub grows in oak savannas, open prairie, and transition zones and attracts hummingbirds. Although these pretty pink or white flowers will produce yellow, then black fruits, wolfberry usually spreads by rhizomes, forming colonies. With roots that can extend more than 5 feet deep and a suckering habit, wolfberry is used for erosion control. Songbirds, game birds, small mammals and browsers use this native honeysuckle relative for food, cover, and nesting sites. (Sources: U.S. Forest Service and Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center)

July 25 - I spy with my little eye --- an insect that does double duty as a decomposer and a pollinator. Adult flower longhorn beetles eat pollen and nectar especially on blooms in the parsley family. As larvae with powerful jaws, they bore galleries under bark of dead trees, mainly oaks and maples, consuming fungi along with wood pulp. It is the fungi in the larvae's gut that break down the cellulose, making the tree's nutrients available to the larva for growth. (Sources: University of Maryland Extension and Insects of the North Woods by Jeffrey Hahn)

July 26 - Northern leopard frogs leave wetland waters in mid-summer for lawns, grassy trails, and prairie meadows. They spring out in long, sudden jumps at the last moment, shooting in any direction. Can you jump as far as a leopard frog? Like many species, they depend upon a mosaic of both wetlands and prairie habitats to complete all of their life cycle stages. They breed in a variety of aquatic areas, including wetlands. Sub-adults typically migrate to feeding sites along the borders of larger, more permanent water bodies, and recently metamorphosed frogs move across land in search of new breeding areas. To help this declining species, it is vital to restore both grasslands and wetlands. (Sources: Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela and the Nevada U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office web site)

July 27 - You can contribute milkweed and monarch egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult sightings you make in late July to the annual International Monarch Monitoring Blitz! Visit the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project at the Monarch Joint Venture web site to add your sightings to the mix and help create a future filled with monarchs.

July 28 - Marvel at cup plant today. Touch the stem. What shape is it? Feel the leaves. What texture does it remind you of? Note how the stem and leaves meet. What's inside? This towering flowering stem indicates that the prairie is in peak bloom. Cup plant grows in southern Minnesota -- it appears at the PWLC because our original seed mix came from Iowa.

July 29 - We could still see young fawns. Have you "spotted" one yet? Unscented, camouflaged by those spots, and nudged down by mom, new fawns move away from their mothers after nursing to bed down and hide, because they cannot outrun predators yet. Twins bed down separately from each other, which also helps increase their chances of survival. Mom stays within a few hundred meters of her young, nursing them twice daily -- they have not been abandoned. Fawns can begin to forage on plants at about 2 weeks of age, but weaning is a gradual process which takes 3 to 4 months.

Photo credit:  "Yellow-headed Blackbird - 4" by oc14me is licensed under CC BY 2.0