Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Aquatic Habitats

You all know that I am in love with water.  That’s one thing my new home state of North Carolina has in abundance!  There’s water in the air, water falling from the sky on a fairly regular basis (though I’m told it’s been a particularly rainy summer so far), and there are aquatic habitats practically everywhere I turn.  I used to have to drive several miles in Tucson to get to the closest water, a city park with couple of tiny ponds filled with reclaimed water, but now I’ve got 4 sizable “ponds” mere blocks from where I live and the Neuse River is less than a 1/4 mile away.  The idea of getting a boat has crept into my mind more than once and the thought isn’t completely laughable anymore.  I could actually carry a lightweight craft to the nearest body of water!  I absolutely love it.

The nature center where I’m working also has water.  Let me take you on a brief tour of the aquatic habitats.  I mentioned the little water garden in the demonstration garden last week:

Water Garden

Water garden

It’s small, but I still enjoy poking around in there to see what I can find.  I’ve always loved water lilies, and the carnivorous bladderworts fascinate me:

bladderwort

Bladderwort

I hope I can see one trap an insect sometime!  There is also a little bog garden in the demonstration garden that is filled with plants capable of surviving in saturated soils for at least some length of time.  But these two aquatic areas are nothing compared to the other aquatic habitats at the ecostation.  This is the pond:

Prairie Ridge pond

Prairie Ridge pond, in the rain

It’s not entirely natural and has a man-made earthen dam at the lower end, but it is fed by rainwater coming off the prairie.  I think it’s beautiful!  There aren’t any fish in the pond (yet at least), so the top predators in the pond are snakes and aquatic insects.  The pond is also where you find the biggest diversity of dragonflies on the Prairie Ridge grounds.  There are a lot of dragonflies there, including the comet darners:

comet darner female

Comet darner female

This individual was caught by a mist net that was set up to trap birds so that they could be banded and released.  Comet darners are widespread in the eastern US but aren’t especially common in any given place.  I feel fortunate to have seen both males and this stunning female at a pond that is so close that I can visit it on a quick break from work.  I find myself down there often!

This is also on the grounds:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream

This stream is absolutely beautiful and winds its way through the wooded area of the property.  The water is clear and I’m told that the quality is quite high. However, there is an Army National Guard base across the street and all the water from the extensive parking lots there flows into this stream.  The result is it floods quite frequently and there is a lot of visible erosion:

Prairie Ridge stream

Prairie Ridge stream showing erosion of the banks

I got to see a bit of flooding firsthand last week.  I visited the stream briefly to take the photos above and then revisited the same spot three hours later to help another entomologist set up some light traps for moths.  It had started raining in the interim and the change in flow in the stream was quite impressive! All that flooding unfortunately means there aren’t all that many aquatic insects in the stream, but I’m still looking forward to poking around in the water to see what I can find.  Might actually be a fun place to determine how flooding impacts aquatic insect recolonization in a humid region.  The moth traps turned up quite a variety of predaceous diving beetles, creeping water beetles, and other aquatic insects, so there’s got to be at least some good stuff in there!

Overall, I feel very lucky to be working in such a beautiful place.  My new coworkers have seen dragonfly swarms over the prairie, and I’m living less than 2 hours from one very heavily traveled route on the migratory route for green darners, so it’s a good place for my dragonfly research.  I can pop down to the pond in minutes and check up on what’s there easily, including the giant water bugs.  The stream is absolutely gorgeous and there are bugs simply everywhere.  Honestly, I couldn’t have picked a better place to work.  I hope you all enjoy hearing about my adventures there!

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12 responses to “Prairie Ridge Ecostation’s Aquatic Habitats

  1. Wonderful water places! Adventures in abundance -enjoy! (and share!)

  2. Okay, how do I make a pond in a box like that?

  3. Oh what a marvelous environment! (For you as well as all the other little critters around. LOL!) I can`t wait to read about all the things you`re going to discover as you explore!

    I need to ask if you have a past blog written about where & how to capture Giant Water Bugs because sadly, after just a few days of living (apparently quite happily) in her new “mansion”, Bela has died! I desperately hope that she was just living out what would naturally have been her final days & that being my guest meant that they were at least free of fear from preditors and a time of easily available food. However, there`s a little part of me that wonders whether I might have brought in some kind of contamination in the soil or water that I got from a local area. 8^(
    She was such a fascinating pet that I would really like to get a pair & see if I could watch the whole reproductive cycle. Any tips or hints you could give would be appreciated. (I`m also thinking of bringing a sample of the water to the very helpful guy at the pet store to see if he discovers any problem with it.)
    Ooops! Sorry to have gone so far off track! Back to the topic at hand. It looks like a marvelous spot & you can be sure that if I ever get into the States & over your way, I`ll definitely be coming by!

    • Lethocerus can live in some pretty nasty water, so I doubt that Bela died as a result of anything you did. If you want to actually breed water bugs, though, I recommend getting some Belstoma rather than Lethocerus because they’re a lot less picky about mating anywhere other than nature. Lethocerus is very difficult to mate indoors and require a lot of space (and they lay their eggs out of water, so you’d have to adapt a lid for your container), so the smaller backbrooders are a much better option if you want to mate them. Can you tell me whereabouts you live so I can give you some good suggestions for places to look?

  4. Henry W. Robison

    The Museum there is an excellent place to work and you are lucky to have this position! Say hello to John Cooper and Wayne Starnes over in the Research area when you see them. Congratulations on such a wonderful place to work!

    • I believe it WILL be an excellent place to work and I feel very lucky to have gotten such an amazing job! I’ve met Wayne and spoken to John by e mail, though I haven’t met John in person yet. He’s just across the parking lot though, so I really should walk over and introduce myself!

  5. Hi Chris,
    Looks like I have found someone who is as passionate about dragonflies and wetlands as I am. I love your blog and will be following it regularly. I share a blog with a friend, Annie, whos main passion is butterflies. I also have a photo website that you might want to look at. The address is http://terrythormin.smugmug.com The dragonfly gallery contains many images of dragonflies both in flight and perched.

    Terry

  6. That stream looks like good habitat for Mocha Emeralds (Somatochlora linearis) and maybe a spiketail (Cordulegaster sp.) or two.

    • I haven’t had a chance to get down in the water there yet! I’m hoping there are some very exciting things down there, though it’s not supposed to be a very diverse habitat. Doesn’t keep me from wanting to go poking around in the water down there though!

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