Prairies are known for their tremendous plant diversity. A healthy prairie will contain upwards of 500 species of vascular plants. Most folks are not aware that there are more species of insects in a prairie than plant species. In fact, experts estimate there are over 3,000 species of insects living on a high quality prairie.
Some insects are easy to spot, in particular butterflies and moths. There are a number of butterfly species of conservation concern at the Kankakee Sands Restoration. The Regal Fritillary is an example of a classic prairie butterfly, distributed from eastern Nebraska to Indiana. The population at the Sands is the easternmost population in the Central Tallgrass Prairie. The species depends upon violets to survive. They lay their eggs on violet leaves, and the emerging young feed exclusively on them. Some other threatened species include the Perseus Duskywing, the Olympia Marble, and the Silver-bordered Fritillary.
What about bees? Bees are very important pollinators. We usually think of honey bees or bumblebees as our bee group. However, a study by Peter Scott at Indiana State University, showed that there is great species diversity among bees. His research group located and identified 150 bee species that are native to the savannas and prairies of Northwest Indiana.
Although they are less well known, leafhoppers are a tremendously diverse insect group. Ron Panzer, a prairie insect researcher, has shown that prairie remnants harbor a great diversity of hoppers, many of which are tied directly to a particular prairie plant. This implies that a diverse prairie (either remnant or restoration) will host more species of insects than a plant-poor prairie. Remnants are much more likely to contain “rare” insects than restorations. Restorations that are adjacent to remnants have a much higher probability of attracting a diverse insect community.April 26, 2011