A Pair of Dune Delights

Wedgeleaf prairie clover (Dalea emarginata) with grasshopper

I would have expected to find a bee buzzing around this pretty clover; even a butterfly, beetle, or fly would have seemed reasonable.

But the grasshopper surprised me, particularly since his flowery, less than two-inch long perch emphasized the creature’s own small size. For all his wonderful complexity, the tiny creature was the smallest grasshopper I’d ever seen.

Even as I admired the grasshopper, I found myself intrigued by the plant on which I’d found him. The low-growing, long-stemmed clusters of flowers fanning out across the dunes of a Brazoria County beach reminded me of the plant known as frogfruit, despite some obvious differences.

Eventually, thanks to a website known as the Gulf Coast Vascular Plant Gallery, I found the flower. Exploring further, I learned this native thrives primarily along Gulf beaches and coastal dune grasslands in Texas. In Louisiana, where its presence has been limited to the area between Holly Beach and Johnson’s Bayou in Cameron Parish, it’s considered rare.

Even here in Texas it seems to be uncommon, or at least little-reported. In yet another first, I found no photos of the plant on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site. A few reports have been recorded at iNaturalist, but even there not a single wedgeleaf prairie clover appears with a grasshopper as a companion.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

43 thoughts on “A Pair of Dune Delights

    1. It certainly delighted me that the grasshopper was willing to hang around for a photo session. He was big enough to see with the naked eye, but barely. If I hadn’t been at plant level, I would have missed him.

    1. I’m off to the beach again, to try for better photos of these flowers, and whatever else I can find. There’s a little high cloud today and almost no wind, which will help. When I found these, it was high noon, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was quite windy. In short, it was what I like to call a “skills development workshop.”

      1. Here, it’s the typical Sunday: watering trees. At least the young ones. They still need watering in the present dry conditions.
        Enjoy your “skills development workshop”,
        Pit

    1. There was an interesting sidelight to the experience. I plucked one of the flowers and and brought it home in a shirt pocket. Of course I forgot about it, until after I’d done laundry. When I found the flower head in the dryer, the bloom was gone, but it was otherwise intact: as smooth and silky as could be. Apparently this clover could be used in dried arrangements, although a different form of drying might keep the stems a little straighter.

  1. Happy small. We think of grasshoppers as relatively large insects, but some of them are tiny. There’s a family of pygmy grasshoppers; the description at https://bugguide.net/node/view/106 says they’re less than 20mm long and often smaller.

    If you’d like, you can donate one or several of your pictures to the Wildflower Center to fill the gap in their photos of this dalea.

    1. Now, that’s interesting. I’ve seen the Liberian pygmy hippopotamus, but never considered that the term ‘pygmy’ might apply to something that’s quite small to start with.

      I’ll have to consult the good people at BugGuide. They helped me identify Pasimachus californicus, the so-called fierce ground beetle, which is the largest beetle I’ve ever seen. It was on the Willow City loop, as well. Everyone seems to go there for the bluebonnets, but the diversity of plant and insect life there is something to behold.

      Adding some of these dalea photos to the Wildflower Center gallery’s a good idea. I’ll figure out how to do that.

    1. I’m generally cautious about tall, thin photos, but sometimes it’s just the ticket, as it was here. It seemed the only way to show the relative size of the flower head and the grasshopper. Another one that seems to demand long and tall is the ladies’ tresses orchid, although cropping can work with those, too.

      I was going to head over to the Nash after seeing your photos, but I decided to head down to the Brazoria refuge before going to the beach. I never made it out of the refuge, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I found exactly two ladies’ tresses orchids there, alongside the road in the nether reaches of the place. They weren’t the most photogenic, but they were there.

  2. These are greats shots, and also fun, I love grasshoppers (to look at, I mean). Did you hum a tune or something, to get it to hold still and pose? Looks like a nice salad buffet for that guy, kind of like an artichoke. Boy I’m really getting a kick out of all these warm-climate plants you and Steve have introduced to me. Wedgeleaf Prairie Clover & Frogfruit” !

    1. I had the sense that the grasshopper knew darned well I was there, and was in the process of evaluating things. I could almost sense it thinking, “Maybe if I hold really still, whatever that creature is won’t notice me.” Too late! Lucky for him I was a congenial sort of predator.

      We do have some interesting names, don’t we? I found some alligator weed yesterday, and ladies’ tresses orchids, which excited me no end. Frogfruit always makes me laugh. I can just imagine a young frog looking at the older ones and saying, “Do I peel this thing, or what?”

  3. Leave it to you to find a miniature grasshopper when I can’t remember the last time I saw one at all! Jeez we’re missing a lot of Nature around here – too many humans!

    1. Certainly humans’ tendency to pour concrete doesn’t do much to create a grasshopper-friendly environment. Honestly, I’ve never thought of the beach as a place to find grasshoppers, but they seemed relatively common on this day. None were the really large ones that I grew up with, or see now on grasslands, but they were there. I’ll be interested to find out if this is a young one, or a very small species.

  4. I went searching for the type of grasshopper, Linda, but didn’t find it. What I did find, however, that apparently it is unusual to take photos of grasshoppers head on. Most of them are lengthwise. It was the head stripe on yours that sent me searching. –Curt

    1. Out of curiosity, I did an image search, and you’re right. Most of the photos are taken from the side. I suppose one reason is for purposes for identification, which is easier if you have that kind of view. I wonder if another reason might be that grasshoppers tend to linger longer if approached from the side or from behind. They’re skittish at best, and usually hop away. This one was surprised: no question about that. It’s always fun to be eye-to-eye with another species.

      1. Eye to eye. You can only wonder what they think. My thoughts were pretty much the same as yours in terms of ID.
        When I was a kid, I used to catch grasshoppers for fish bait, poor guys, but they can be very fast! –Curt

        1. We went with crickets and nightcrawlers, but the premise is the same. I never was willing to put live bait on a hook, but I was willing to water the grass, collect the worms, and sell them for penny candy money.

  5. That tiny grasshopper almost looks like he’s grinning at you! What a lovely shade of purple on this plant, and what a fantastic shot you got! Maybe you need to send it to the Wildflower Center??

    1. He does look like he’s smiling, doesn’t he? Perhaps he’d just figured out what he wasn’t going to be eaten — reason enough to smile for anyone.

      I thought the plant was lovely, too. I especially like the grains of sand on it. I intended to go back yesterday and get more (and better) photos of the plant itself, but I ended up spending too much time at a wildlife refuge along the way, and never made it back. Another day. I do need different photos for the Wildflower Center: ones that include the whole plant, leaves, and so on.

    1. I had the same sense, Dina. Do you suppose it’s an escapee from Jurassic Park? If it is, I suspect it’s not going to do much damage. One of the things I love most about my macro lens is the world it reveals on the flowers around us. Butterflies and bees are easy enough to spot, but it seems there’s no end to the number of other little creatures that make their homes there.

  6. I am glad that no grasshopper found its way in the washing machine, Linda. Grasshoppers in Australia that I have seen are very large and can strip a paddock bare in no time. Whole clouds of them are visible from the skies and farmers are warned to take action. The action is mainly by spraying toxins.
    Glad Europe has banned a few of those toxins in order to save the bee.
    But farmers are not happy.

    1. Of course, for a grasshopper to find its way to the washing machine, it would have had to be in my pocket, and there’s no way that’s going to happen — at least, intentionally.

      Those grasshopper infestations can be terrible. Smaller clouds of them still show up here from time to time, and it’s a sight. The only plague-level experience I’ve had was with crickets rather than grasshoppers, but I’d prefer never to go through that again.

      It is quite a balancing act with pesticides and herbicides. At least there seems to be more attention being paid to their use now: when to spray or not because of the wind or other conditions, using the lowest possible concentration, and so on. Even when spraying here for mosquitoes, the county is quite good about choosing their time carefully and making multiple public announcements, so that people who need special care taken (like bee keepers) can avoid serious damage.

  7. Always nice to find a rare plant and better still to capture a photo of it.

    That ‘little’ grasshopper looks like some sort of little alien, but perhaps that’s just the angle, colouring and my imagination. Lovely shot, Linda.

    1. The good news is that even though loss of habitat has rendered this little plant rare in Louisiana, it still is present here, although apparently uncommon.

      I think close-up views of most insects are a little startling. We’re so used to seeing them without the finer details, it’s always amazing to see their coloring and patterns. I’ve always understood that birds and flowers differ from one another — sometimes remarkably so — but for years a grasshopper was just a grasshopper, and nothing more. Clearly, that isn’t so.

  8. Oooh! — you’ve uncovered a secret rendezvous. Such a delicate purple though. It may be your little grasshopper has a sweet tooth for purple clover.

    1. I did read that this plant is a rich nectar source, and that even butterflies enjoy it, so it makes perfect sense that it would appeal to a grasshopper’s sweet tooth. If he was noshing at the equivalent of a candy counter, no wonder he didn’t leave. That’s like trying to separate me from a good chocolate truffle.

  9. I don’t know exactly why, but close up shots of grasshoppers give me the idea they are curious and checking the photographer out. Finding a rare flower is a fun experience and i agree with Steve about your sharing the picture with The Wildflower Center.

    1. I had a very clear sense that this one was checking me out. I could almost sense that internal dialogue, too: should I stay, or should I go? Calculating relative risk is hard.

      I will submit some photos of the plant, but I need some good photos of the complete plant, the leaves, and so on. I intended to make another trip to the dunes yesterday, but a wildlife refuge delayed me. So many places, so little time — as you know.

    1. And I wondered if anyone would spot that bit of petal in his mouth. In addition to that, the bit of petal under his front leg is misplaced, as though it’s been dropped. The flower blooms in a circle around the flower head, and not a single other plant had any blooms at the top. I’m fairly sure he was munching on that flower when I startled him.

    1. I had no idea there are so many daleas — even on the beach, you can find more than this one. As for the grasshopper, I’ve still not submitted his photo to the good people at BugGuide, but it’s on the to-do list. I’d love it if he were a pygmy grasshopper. The very thought makes me laugh.

    1. I was so surprised to see the little guy staring at me, all I could do was laugh. Well — and take his photo, of course. Eye-to-eye with a grasshopper is special no matter when or where it happens.

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