Weekly Update – Wildlife in Story County

Week of July 19-July 26, 2021

What’s Buzzing?

We found our first endangered species!

On Monday, July 19th we were able to find a Southern Plains Bumble Bee during a pollinator survey at Ada Hayden Heritage Park.  This species is designated as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.  As celebration of locating this rare bee, we will be giving it the spotlight this week.

Species Spotlight: Southern Plains Bumble Bee (Bombus fraternus), Endangered

The Southern Plains Bumble Bee’s name is a bit of a misnomer since there really isn’t anything southern about this bee, as they’ve been found as far north as Minnesota.  Likewise, there’s no such thing as a Northern Plains Bumble Bee either.  A more fitting name for this species could be the giant bumble bee, as it’s the largest species of bumble bee that we have in Iowa.  This species can be distinguished through its large size, yellow bands of hair that fully cover the first two segments of its abdomen, and the short, almost matted look of its hair.

The Southern Plains Bumble Bee is a grassland specialist bee, and can be found in Iowa’s native tallgrass prairies feeding on milkweeds, thistles, mountain mint, prairie clovers, and goldenrods (maybe another potential name for this species could be the Prairie Bumble Bee!)  This bee, like other bumble bees forms a social colony with a queen and several workers.  It builds its nests in burrows underground.  The main threat that this bee species faces is both loss of habitat due to intensifying agriculture, and the prevalence of insecticides that come along with that agriculture.  It’s estimated that the population is only 15% of historical numbers, and its range has declined by nearly 30%.  At the current rate of decline, the Southern Plains Bumble Bee could go extinct in the next 80-90 years.

Southern Plains Bumble Bee on Mountain Mint

Pictured: The endangered Southern Plains Bumble Bee gathering pollen and nectar from mountain mint.

Other Pollinators Seen This Week


Hesperiidae: Peck’s Skipper, Least Skipper, Silver Spotted Skipper.

Lycaenidae: Eastern Tailed Blue.

Nymphalidae: Great Spangled Fritillary, Hackberry Emperor, Meadow Fritillary, Monarch, Red Admiral, Red Spotted Purple.

Papilionidae: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Pieridae: Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur.

Bumble Bees: American Bumble Bee, Black and Gold Bumble Bee, Brown Belted Bumble Bee, Common Eastern Bumble Bee, Half-Black Bumble Bee, Two Spotted Bumble Bee.

What’s Blooming?

Species Spotlight: Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Purple Prairie Clover is a bright purple flower that blooms in Mid-Summer.  This plant is a perennial in the legume family, or fabaceae.  Purple Prairie Clover, like other clovers has complex flowering heads that are made of several densely packed individual flowers.  Interestingly, these flowers bloom continuously over the summer months from the bottom to the top of the flower head, making it easy to estimate how much of a blooming period is left for an individual plant.  These flowers are highly attractive, and are visited by nearly every type of pollinator including small bees, large bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths.  Two species of butterfly, the Southern Dogface and Reakirt’s Blue, use this plant as their larval host. 

Traditionally, Purple Prairie Clover was used by indigenous Iowans as a treatment for diarrhea.  Recently, a compound within Purple Prairie Clover known as “Pawhuskin A” was identified.  This compound acts as an opioid receptor antagonist, meaning it will force itself to bind with opioid receptors, even “kicking out” other compounds currently attached to those receptors.  This makes Pawhuskin A act very similarly to current over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine.  On top of that, it also shows promise as a potential treatment for opioid overdose.

Culver's Root

Pictured: A Purple Prairie Clover plant with several flowering heads.

Other Plants Blooming This Week

Native Plants:

Allegheny Monkeyflower, American Germander, Black Eyed Susan, Blue Vervain, Brown Eyed Susan, Butterfly Milkweed, Common Boneset, Common Evening Primrose, Common Ironweed, Common Milkweed, Common Selfheal, Common Yarrow, Compass Plant, Culver’s Root, Cup Plant, Daisy Fleabane, Fall Phlox, False Sunflower, Grey Headed Coneflower, Hoary Vervain, Lead Plant, Pale Purple Coneflower, Prairie Blazing Star, Rattlesnake Master, Rosinweed, Round Headed Bush Clover, Showy Tick Trefoil, Slender Mountain Mint, Swamp Milkweed, Starry Campion, Sweet Joe Pye Weed, Tall Bellflower, Tall Cinquefoil, Virginia Mountain Mint, White Prairie Clover, White Snakeroot, White Vervain, White Wild Indigo, Whorled Milkweed, Wild Bergamot, Yellow Oxalis.

Non-Native Plants:

Birdsfoot Trefoil, Blackberry Lily, Catnip, Chickory, Creeping Thistle, Crown Vetch, Field Bindweed, Great Mullein, Orange Day Lily, Queen Anne’s Lace, Red Clover, Velvetleaf, White Clover, White Sweet Clover, Yellow Sweet Clover.

What’s Flying?

Species Spotlight: Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis)

I was watching a YouTube video the other day that was all about fixing the state birds of the United States.  They used some criteria like distribution, breeding patterns, and how unique a bird is to a state.  And we received the Sedge Wren as a replacement for the goldfinch.  It might surprise some that the goldfinch is not necessarily an Iowa bird.  Its year-round range stretches across the country from coast to coast, and as such we share it as a state bird with both New Jersey and Washington.  However, the Sedge Wren’s breeding range is only in the Midwest, with Iowa as the center, making it quite literally, an Iowa-centric species.  This bird is a small, cute bird with brown, tan, and black feathers.  It can be distinguished by its high-pitched trilling calls.

The diet of the Sedge Wren consists entirely of insects and spiders, making them great natural pest controllers.  This bird spends a significant time on the ground rather than in the air, and will even prefer to run away from predators rather than escaping by flying.  The Sedge Wren will nest in wet prairies, grasslands, and as the name suggests in sedge meadows.

Sedge Wren on Vervain

Pictured: A Sedge Wren singing while perched on hoary vervain.

Other Birds Seen This Week (Courtesy of EBird.org)

Breeding: American Coot, American Crow, American Goldfinch, American Kestrel, American Redstart, American Robin, Baltimore Oriole, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Barred Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Black Capped Chickadee, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Blue Grosbeak, Blue Jay, Brown Headed Cowbird, Brown Thrasher, Canada Goose, Cedar Waxwing, Chimney Swift, Chipping Sparrow, Cliff Swallow, Common Grackle, Common Yellowthroat, Dickcissel, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Wood Pewee, Field Sparrow, Gray Catbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Crested Flycatcher, Green Heron, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Indigo Bunting, Killdeer, Lark Sparrow, Mallard, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Northern Rough Winged Swallow, Orchard Oriole, Pied Billed Grebe, Prothonotary Warbler, Purple Martin, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red Eyed Vireo, Red Headed Woodpecker, Red Tailed Hawk, Red Winged Blackbird, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Song Sparrow, Spotted Sandpiper, Tree Swallow, Turkey Vulture, Warbling Vireo, White Breasted Nuthatch, Wild Turkey, Willow Flycatcher, Wood Duck, Wood Thrush, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Yellow Throated Vireo.

Non-Breeding: Greater White Fronted Goose, Least Sandpiper, Northern Parula, Pectoral Sandpiper, Ruddy Duck, Solitary Sandpiper, Snow Goose.

Non-Native: Eurasian Collared Dove, European Starling, House Finch, House Sparrow, Ring Necked Pheasant, Rock Pigeon.

Have You Seen Any Interesting Wildlife?

If so, please upload any pictures of what you’ve seen on iNaturalist.org.

You can also send your sightings to the Watersheds and Wildlife Coordinator at dstein@prrcd.org