The Sandhills boast a wide range of ecosystems–spanning from marshes to dry upland vegetated sand dunes. Because of this variety, the wildlife that makes their home in this landscape are plentiful and diverse. Insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all occupy the many Sandhill ecological communities.
The Nebraska Sandhills have a diverse insect population that reflects the multitude of habitats found across the landscape. Insects in this area have adapted to the sandy soils and dry climate. They provide many benefits to the other animals, plants, and humans that live there, although most people do not recognize their significance. Sandhill insects can be divided into four categories–pollinators, scavengers, and predators.
Pollinators are invaluable to the survival of the Sandhills. Wild bees and bumble bees are the most important. Wild bees are solitary, and include sweat, sand, leaf cutter, and alkali bees. Bumble bees are social insects and live in colonies. Many wasp species also provide pollinator services. Other pollinators include butterflies and moths, such as the monarch butterfly, swallowtail, red admiral, painted lady, yucca moths, and sphinx moths. The Monarch Butterfly as received considerable attention in the last few years due to its endangered status. Adults migrate through the Sandhills on their 2000 mile journey to winter habitat in Mexico.
Scavengers clean up the abundance of animal feces as well as dead animal carcasses. They are also responsible for aerating the soils–enabling a diverse population of plants to survive. Blow flies, flesh flies, dung beetles, and carrion beetles are all scavenging insects. The American burying beetle is a endangered carrion beetle that makes its home in the Sandhills. Nebraska has one of the highest populations of this insect.
Insect predators feed on the larvae or adult form of other insects, small fish, and, aquatic invertebrates, and include the blood sucking insects that cause distress in livestock and human populations. Mantids, ladybird beetles, aphid lions, wasp species, dragon flies, and ants control insect pests that feed on plants, crops, and other animals. They provide a service to farmers and ranchers throughout the Sandhills, by keeping pests at a manageable level. On-the-other-hand blood sucking flies such as mosquitos, horse flies, and deer flies torment livestock and can cause significant economic losses to ranchers if not controlled. Plant predatory insects include species such as crickets, grasshoppers, cicadas, locusts, and many species of true bugs and beetles. These insects feed on the diverse variety of plants found in the Sandhills. Some feed directly on the plant and other suck the sap and living juices from the plant.
Insects in the Sandhills are diverse and abundant. “Insects are major connectors between different species…By consuming large quantities of plants and other plant parts on the one hand, and by being consumed in enormous amounts by vertebrates [and invertebrates] on the other hand, insects in great part determine the structural relationship between larger organisms” (An Atlas of the Sand Hills). They all, whether beneficial or a pest to the human population, make up unique web of flora and fauna that is the Sandhills.
More than 75 species of fish can be found in the streams, lakes, and marshes of the Sandhills. The diversity of habitat types and relative stability of water flow, temperature, and quality ensure a robust and diverse fish population to satisfy anglers of all types. Fish species can be classified by which type of habitat they prefer – headwaters, medium sized rivers, large rivers, or lakes.
Headwater streams in the Sandhills are small and stable. They flow at a near constant rate and are supplied by the area’s vase groundwater resource. Fish species occupying these areas are so well adapted to these areas that their survival would be affected if the streams underwent a large fluctuation in flow. Headwater species include minnows, trout, daces, sticklebacks, and shiners.
Medium sized rivers and streams are very common across the Sandhills. These habitats generally show an increase in predator species and thus an increase in species diversity. Common carp, plains minnow, western silvery minnow, flat head chub, red shiner, suckermouth minnow, red shiner, and stone cat can all be found here. Because this habitat falls between the headwater and the large river habitats species from each can be found coexisting in many locations.
Rivers classified as large do not actually exist in the Sandhills, however typical large river fish species can be found in the Loup and Niobrara. These species include the speckled chub, silver chub, emerald shiner, river shiner, carpsucker, channel catfish, flathead catfish, walleye and fresh water drum. These fish are more tolerant of a wide variety of environment fluctuations than their headwater cousins.
Lake fisheries in the Sandhills can be divided further into alkaline lakes and fresh water lakes. Many Sandhill lakes are too alkaline to support a fish population. Fish species adapted to alkaline habitats include yellow perch, grass pickerel, northern pike, and black bullhead. Fresh water lake species include largemouth bass, bluegill, yellow perch, black crappie, walleye, channel catfish, and northern pike. These fisheries are of special interest to anglers across the state and beyond.
Reptiles and Amphibians
More coming soon!!!