Rattlesnakes in the Prairie

Prairies and grasslands offer some of the world’s most beautiful yet overlooked landscapes. From far away, they look messy and uninviting. Take a closer look and you may just find a surprise, a rattlesnake perhaps.

Of course, in northern Illinois, we don’t have rattlesnakes but we have the next best thing, Rattlesnake Master {Eryngium yuccifolium}. This amazing native prairie plant was said to have been chewed and spread on the hands of natives, allowing them to “master” rattlesnakes without any ill effect.

Besides cool forbs and grasses, there are also many fascinating insects. To find them requires a bit of searching, but nothing quite brings out the inner child than a wicked cool bug!

Red Milkweed Beetle
Red Milkweed Beetle {Tetraopes tetraophthalmus}

And of course, there are the butterflies, like this Monarch on Common Milkweed.
Monarch {Danaus plexippus}

The only drawback to the abundance of colorful prairie plants is we have yet to master most of them. As we learn more about the prairie, we hope to become as familiar with the plants as we are with the birdlife. We can fully understand what it feels for beginning birders to be confused by sparrows or warblers, etc. as we often have that same overwhelming feeling amongst the always changing prairie.

Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)
Wildflower

Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii)
Wildflower

St. John’s Wort species
Wildflower

EDIT: thanks to entangled for the IDs.

6 thoughts on “Rattlesnakes in the Prairie

  1. I’m originally from northern Illinois and I’ve been a sporadic reader here for several months. Anyhow, the first plant is Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria). The second looks like Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii) – a real pest, but loved by bees and butterflies. The third looks like one of the St. John’s Worts (Hypericum sp.), but it’s hard to say which one without seeing more of the leaves.

    There’s a good website for Illinois wildflowers at:
    http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/index.htm

    I think I stumbled onto your blog while searching for info on the Afton “Forest” Preserve, which I love to visit when I’m back in Illinois. I really enjoy the vicarious Illinois birdwatching here!

  2. Thanks much for the info!! We have a prairie plant book that we plan to bring out to the preserve the next time we go. Good to know about the knapweed. We will check with those in charge about it.

    Afton is a wonderful place although we don’t make it there as often as we’d like.

  3. That looks like a Japanese Beetle on your third photo. Is it? I remember those bugs as a child and how they practically destroyed my dad’s roses most summers. Gosh, are there any birds or other critters around that eat these beetles? And of course I have traded those disgusting bugs for another disgusting pest here in California – slugs and snails. Ugh! BTW, great photos, and I’m glad someone in-the-know commented on the identity of your plants.

  4. Mary – yes, it is a Japanese Beetle (unfortunately). They are certainly pesty as they are attacking some plants in our front yard but so far they are ignoring the Cupplants. We have been exterminating some of them in the front (by hand) but it is hard to keep up!

    Slugs = gross!!

  5. Be warned; that’s a Japanese beetle on your St. Johns wort. Although everything has it’s place in nature, these beetles decimated plantlife where I grew up in NY.
    Love the monarch on milkweed. Thanks for sharing your plants & bugs!

  6. Lana – thanks much. We are aware of the Japanese beetles and the problems they cause. Luckily, the prairie plants seem to fair well against them (although we will keep a close watch).

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