A CLOSER LOOK

Home to cattle, cowgirls, cowboys, birds, fishes, horses, and on occasion goats, sheep, and chickens, there is another, hidden side of the Chico Basin Ranch that you have to get down on your knees to see. Over 300 insect species have been identified here to date and that is only a beginning. If I was a biology teacher still, I would bring all my classes to the Chico in order to take a closer look.

While walking in Chico Basin Ranch’s northeastern most pasture with Maddie (photo) and Richard, and looking at numerous Chestnut-collared Longspurs, one of the few bird species endemic to the Great Plains, I heard the distinctive buzz of a robber fly. Robber flies are the wolves of the insect world; they are swift flying, winged predators. Some robber flies are bee mimics, but this one is the large, drab robber fly with bulbous claspers on its posterior which helps to identify it as a male in the Efferia genus. This robber fly landed near my foot but it wasn’t until I returned home and examined my photographs where I saw why the robber fly was spending so much time in one location. It was using its specialized piercing and sucking mouth parts to extract fluids from a small leafhopper. There are over 2500 species of leafhoppers in North America. Leafhoppers and the closely related sharpshooters are insects with specialized mouthparts enabling them to extract fluids from plant stems. The brightly colored leafhoppers frequently perch with hind legs cocked, ready to leap away from would be predators. But…this one was not quick enough to escape THIS predator. While you are out in the field next time…take a closer look!

Maddie taking a closer look in Chico’s shortgrass prairie

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