Kids and weird bugs are always a good match!
The site was originally a farm on the Blackland prairie and in the 1930's was turned over to the Boy Scouts. It's a heavily utilized setting that is somewhat typical of the kind of environment you find in many "nature" areas of the Post Oak prairie. This one sits on a fairly extensive outcrop of white Austin Chalk limestone, and has a mix of successional plants along with some invasives. I didn't survey the forbs or grasses or trees -- a project for some other time. There are well mowed lawns on some sections, campsites for scouts in other sections, and I suspect that someone has had to do a lot of backbreaking poison ivy removal, too.
On the walk to the teaching area I was delighted to note a surprising amount of diversity among the grasses, including such species as bromes, and wiregrass (as well as the persistent and annoying invasive, Johnson grass.) Bermuda grass and St. Augustine grass were also present, which really isn't any sort of a surprise.
The assignment I had for the scouts was to do an arthropod diversity project. Conditions were somewhat difficult because the morning was very windy and the afternoon was hot. There wasn't a permanent source of water in the area I'd picked for survey, which also impacted our findings. However, as expected, with over 200 pairs of eyes combing the ground and the trees and looking around buildings, we found a lot of arthropods in the survey area.
Given the strength of the wind, it wasn't terribly surprising to find no butterflies active during the morning, though this changed as the day went on. There were three reports of a Monarch butterfly, two of Tiger Swallowtails, and a report of a Leopard Moth as well as a Leopard Moth caterpillar. Many of the "usual suspects" also appeared, including mud dauber wasps, cicada killer wasps, leaf-footed bugs, assassin bugs, squash beetles, and some small leafhoppers. There weren't many ant colonies, which I found interesting. The few that we found were beside a building and between those colonies and the building itself were a line of 23 ant lion (Myrmeleon species)dens right next to the building's wall. It's an interesting optimal strategy, and I wondered what sort of tropism the ant lion has that caused this placement.
We found a rather large cockroach nymph (possibly Periplaneta americana) scuttling through the growth, and several Harlequin Bugs (Murgantia histrionica) -- sometimes called "stink beetles" or "stink bugs."
I confirmed two dragonfly species -- the Black Saddlebags Dragonfly (Tramea lacerata), and the Blue Dasher Dragonfly (female - Pachydiplax longipennis.) The Blue Dasher was a startling sight with its beautiful ruby eyes and bright yellow markings.
The one insect that captured everyone's attention was the humble grasshopper -- perhaps because nearly everyone tried to catch it. We had Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), red-legged grasshopper (Melanoplus foedus), Carolina Grasshopper (with a high middle ridge on its back -- Dissosteria carolina) and two that I had been told were "Sassy Bird Grasshoppers." Now that I go hunting for the species names, I don't see that one listed, so I believe my NEXT project with the Boy Scouts will be to do a survey of the grasshoppers (capturing, bringing them in for ID, releasing them) of the area.
Who doesn't love a good bug hunt?