RSS

Red Mangrove and its Hitchhiker Oysters

Rhizophora mangle and Crossostrea rhizophorae


They have an exhibit at the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit in Ft. Pierce where Red Mangroves thrive in a big indoor tank.   John and I have a lot of time invested in Red Mangroves, so we’re naturally interested in the captive individuals.  An odd and fascinating aspect of the indoor specimens is that Oysters grow on their prop roots, just as wild mangroves accumulate Oysters in the sea.

Photos today by John Bradford

Oyster classification appears to be complex, with several different types sometimes mixed together.  Along the Southeast Coast of Florida there are mixed species, even on a Mangrove.    That said, one is a Red Mangrove specialist, the Mangrove being Rhizophora, and the Mangrove Oyster being Crossostrea rhizophorae, hanging out from Florida to South America.   It clusters on Red Mangrove roots below the high tide line, exposed when the tide is out.

Oysters with barnacles on the roots

Obviously the Mangrove helps the oysters, but how about the reverse?   A study in the Philippines on a different Oyster species on a different Mangrove species found the shellfish guilty of an unexplained mild detrimental effect on Mangrove growth.  

High tide, happy Oysters

If the study was accurate, ya gottta wonder how some clinging seafood hurts the tree, but anything is possible.   The Mangrove roots “breathe” through big white valves (specialized lenticels) exposed to fresh air at low tide, so maybe a committee of oysters can cover the ventilation system.   A hypothesis to test, after first confirming oyster-impaired growth.

Could Oysters block those air valves?

Harmless or pesky to the tree, the oysters are beneficial for hungry humans.   Some shell middens (ancient refuse piles) are almost entirely remains from the Mangrove Oyster, still showing tool marks from shucking a few thousand years ago. 

All Mangrove Oysters

And speaking of tool marks, Bearded Capuchin Monkeys in Brazil bang the Mangrove Oysters open using clumps of other Oysters. (Although I have no image for that specifically, here is a link to Asian monkeys doing the same with other shellfish).  In Cuba historically Oyster harvesters cut off the mangrove roots and hauled them away in floating rectangular boxes.   In Puerto Rico as well, Mangrove Oysters were once an important harvest, sometimes approaching 100,000 pounds per year.

Wonder how much seafood sauce that required.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 22, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Why is the Muhly Grass Pink?

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Poaceae


Driving home from working with John on our wildflower atlas project, I noticed something easy to notice…delicate drifts of pink waving in the breezes.  Who says South Florida has no fall color?  The poison ivy turns red, and we have Muhly Grass, mostly planted.  We’ve all seen it, sometimes covering entire moist meadows with fine feathery pinky-purply flower stalks quivering in the breeze.

Today’s pictures all by John Bradford.

No point here in going on about it as a garden species…try Google to be fertilized with horticultural redundancy.  I like, instead, to delve into why the botanical pulchritude.   Not that I know.   But being an ex-teacher, I do know how to write a multiple choice question.

Muhly Grass is pretty in pink, because:

  1. The pink attracts pollinators to the needy flowers.
  2. The pink is sunscreen protecting the delicate flowers.
  3. The pink is advertising:—hey, I taste good, come eat me and spread my seeds.
  4. The pink is a warning:—hey, I taste terrible,  go eat somebody else’s flowers.
  1. Attract pollinators.  Naw, grasses are almost never pollinated by insects.  They go for wind. The Muhly is at peak pink now, but not many flowers are open.  The flowers offer no reward. And I’ve sat and watched for insects,  only to be skunked.
  2. Sunscreen for delicate blossoms.  A more-compelling idea, but not convincing.   The pink coloration extends strongly into non-flowering parts probably not that sensitive to sun.   Also, a few other grasses have pink up top but, again, it is not distributed to offer PF50.  Moreover, why would sunscreen be vivid eye-grabbing pink?   Seems to be a flag, so read on.
  3. Grasses get around in part inside the animals that graze on them,  although wind is clearly more important by far.  No data on internal grass seed transport handy (it is after 1 AM), but the idea that the pink color serves this purpose is contradicted by one of Muhly’s commercial selling points, that deer hate it.   Wondering why, I did something characteristically stupid.  Shhhh. Don’t tell my wife.  I popped some in my mouth and chewed my cud.   BAD IDEA!   It tastes awful, but the real punishment was a “physiological reaction” in my mouth lining for over an hour, maybe even a wee bit now.  (Or is that the wine I’m drinking as I type?)   What it would do upon being swallowed is worrisome.   Nasty. 
  4. The unpalatability points to choice 4, deterrent.    What is the worst thing in the world for a grass, except maybe a lawnmower or brush fire?   Having its precious flowers grazed off.   Who knows what herbivores Muhly Grass evolved with, no doubt buffalo, mastodons, and other hungry beasts now extinct.  In 2021 deer will have to represent the Herbivore Guild.  So then,  I suspect with no proof the pink tops are “warning coloration.”   How many clear examples of that are apparent in the plant world?
 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Longfruit Primrose-Willow, Did Ponce de Leon Stomp Over the Fountain of Youth?

Longfruit Primrose-Willow, Did Ponce de Leon Stomp Over the Fountain of Youth?

Ludwigia octovalvis

Onagraceae, Evening-Primrose Family


Today John, John’s wife Dee, and I visited the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems exhibit in Ft. Pierce, complete with a Pipefish with a bent snout, Barnacles on video monitor, pregnant male Seahorses, and tons more.  So much fun, so much to learn.  I wanna be a marine biologist!

How does a salty jaunt tie in with a native plant blog?   Easy…immortality.  We learned about how certain jellyfish are sort of immortal, which is no BFD in the green world if you like cloning.

But humans aren’t green and we don’t clone yet, and I’ve heard we get old, but maybe Longfruit Primrose-Willow will help add some quality time shooting hoops with the great-great-grandchildren.   A bit of a stretch,  but read on anyhow.  Let’s get to know the plant before visiting the botanical fountain of youth.

Longfruit Evening Primrose by John Bradford

We see a lot of Longfruit Primrose-Willow around town, usually as a semi-woody shrub typically 4-5 feet tall along muddy shores and in wet ditches. Blooming as we speak.   Its bright yellow flowers have four ephemeral petals, and long cigarette-shaped seedpods.    The name “octovalvis,” refers to the eight segments (valves) left behind after the fruit splits apart to release a whole lot of micro-seeds.   Native to Florida, it is found all over the tropical world, with its natural vs. “introduced” ranges long lost in history.   In Asia, Africa, and elsewhere the plant is a ricefield pest yet at the same time valued as a source of food and medicines.

Zillions of plants around the world have been used forever to address every medical need in the human conditions.   This over-stuffed topic gets boringly and redundantly unrealistic, even when there are modern claims of anti-bacterial, anti-diabetic, or anti-tumor activities. Some actually do work of course, but the many false promises funnel down painfully to precious few viable outcomes. (Sort of like, as we learned today by the sea, one mother lobster generates a few hundred thousand babies, only to have a handful grow into big proud lobsters.)

Lots of plants claim to ease childbirth, relieve a crummy in the tummy, restore male mojo, or salve a rash,  but who ever heard of anti-aging plants,  having, no less, modern scientifically tested and explained effects?   The Evening-Primrose Family would be a good place to look, as is members bestow beneficial compounds found in human milk (a path to farmable bovineless “milk”?) and agents that suppress human digestive enzymes (control of dietary-digestive disorders?).

Okay, but what about that anti-aging?  In 2013 biochemist W. Lin and colleagues found Ludwigia octovalvis to extend the lives of fruitflies, and get this,  on a high calorie diet.  Even better, it prevented fruit fly senile cognitive decline.  My only question is, how do you measure a fruit fly’s cognitive ability?  Maybe its ability to tell a breadfruit from a jackfruit.   Extending to our murine kin, Ludwigia octovalvis did the same for elderly mice.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Blue Mistflower, Hyperparasitoids, and the Toxic Queen

Blue Mistflower, Hyperparasitoids, and the Toxic Queen

Conoclinium coelestinum

Asteraceae


Today John and I resumed work on our upcoming wildflower photo atlas shelved a year ago during Covid.   We’re starting over at the top of the alphabet, which brought up a curious member of the Asteraceae in full autumn bloom now, Blue Mistflower.    Saw a lot of it flowering today.

Now a small disclaimer: some of today’s blog is generalized from closely related species of Conoclinium.  When one species is not well studied, turn to the rest of the genus.  Mistflowers attract a broad array of pollinators, including Monarch and Queen butterflies.   To dig in on that, we’re going to learn a bit from Texas biologist Monika Maekle summarizing earlier research largely by the late insect-chemical ecologist Thomas Eisner.   If today’s story seems spotty, it is. It is cobbled together from different studies and has swiss cheese gaps. Call it food for thought.

Blue Mistflowers. Pollinator AND parasite magnet. All Mistflower photos by John Bradford.

Mistflower plants stink.   Not in a bad way, I kind of like it.  They have a strong sharp biting odor I associate with the alkaloid family of plant chemicals, including such familiar plant compounds as nicotine, caffeine, and ephedrine.    Mistflowers, among many interesting compounds produce an alkaloid called intermedine, which is known from additional plants, and which is involved in insect-to-insect signaling.   Its reported role among Queen Butterflies is remarkable.

Male Queen Butterflies draw nectar from Mistflowers, which no doubt protects the male Butterflies from predators, and more intricately, serves upon some chemical alteration as a sex attractant to draw the female and her eggs poisonous to pests.   It may be, but not proven(!), that the toxin makes the female less attractive to subsequently encountered males.

Queen Butterfly. Photo by my butterfly-loving wife Donna Rogers

It gets even more complicated.  Remember how Mistflower draws a lot of pollinators?  Remember how it reeks with chemicals known to function as insect signals?    The alkaloids attract Butterflies. Seems that parasitic wasps have “learned” to follow the scent to dinner. Around 2010 UF entomologist John Sivinski and colleagues conducted a survey of numerous plants in terms of their widely varied tendencies to attract parasitoid wasps.  Guess what species was #1 for Chalcid Wasps.  Yep, Blue Mistflower by a whole heck of a lot.  Chalcid Wasps parasitize butterfly larvae, among other vics.  Some Chalcids are hyperparasitoids, parasitizing other parasitoids.

Chalcid Wasp, photo by Jean and Fred. Much magnified—they are tiny

Let’s now wrap this up with some speculation:  Male Queen Butterfly takes in intermedine with nectar.  He uses its chemical derivative to attract a female. Upon mating, intermedine transfers to the female, with an advantage to the male of protecting the eggs the male fertilized.  And maybe repelling other males?  Intermedine or some other alkaloid(s) probably draw Chalcid wasps to the Mistflower which is rich in Butterflies to victimize.  Wasp attacks on Queen Butterflies may (speculatively!) be mitigated by the alkaloid in the male, female, and eggs, although the eggs are deposited for larval development ordinarily on plants of the Milkweed Family.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Coconuts Getting Around—It Wasn’t All Floating

Coconuts Getting Around—It Wasn’t All Floating

Cocos nucifera

Arecaceae, the Palm Family


Hanging around the ocean this week in such beautiful weather, got to thinking about coconuts.  

Where’s Gilligan?

Few plant species have more written about them, given their global distribution, coconutty foods and drinks,  useful husks and fibers, diseases, ecological roles, and more.    A tropical resort would suck without coconuts, although I hope no sunbather gets beaned by one.  If I’m ever a castaway, I hope the island has lots of coconuts.

This castaway is in Fiji, thus the rounded Type-V Pacific-style coconuts.

As a kid, I had in my room a Florida souvenir pirate head carved from one.   There’s therefore a million coco nut angles to explore, but what I’d like is to offer a “book report” on fascinating DNA research by other people, pulled together and augmented a lot recently by Australian botanist Bee Gunn and collaborators. 

Anybody who has ever been near the sea knows coconuts float to distant shores,  coming to life upon washing up on sunny sands on desert isles.    Interestingly in that connection, some are self-pollinating to make island-colonizing easy, others need pollen from a neighbor. Stay tuned on that.

Given all that floatin’ & rootin’ you’d think the tropical shores would be inhabited by a messy mix of coconuts of diverse origins.  But DNA tells a better story. Here goes:

First thing to know, there are two basic types of coconuts with two original points of cultivation. One, called Niu Kafa, is more prevalent in the tropical Atlantic, west Africa, and most of the Indian Ocean.  Its original center of prehistoric cultivation was in or near Southern India. We will call it Type K.

Type K coconuts in Jupiter, FL. Long, pointy tip, thick fibrous husk.

The other type, Niu Vai, came into ancient cultivation originally in or near Southeast Asia, and is prevalent in the Pacific Ocean. For simplicity, call it Type V.

Differences between the two are sort of easy to spot.  Type K is regarded as more similar to the “wild type,” although it has long been cultivated.  Compared with Type V, they tend to be taller, unable to self-pollinate, and, most conspicuously, have elongate coconuts pointy at the tip, and with thick fibrous husks.   Not counting special cultivars introduced recently by plant nurseries, Type K is what we have growing wild along Florida shores.

Type V, by contrast, is often shorter (containing the so-called dwarf cultivars), self-pollinated, and having more-colorful, more-liquid-rich, thinner-husked, more-rounded coconuts with blunt tips.  In short, these show more long-term human selection for cultivation, and are the type you’d see growing naturally in say Hawaii or western Mexico.

Type V, rounded coconut, more vividly colored than K. Photo by Yn Nil.

Now it gets complex.   People have been sea-faring for a lonnnnng time, perhaps longer than we tend to think, and they have been moving things around.  Examples include prehistoric sweet potatoes in Peru and New Guinea, bottle gourds mysteriously in Africa and North America, agaves throughout Caribbean islands,  and papayas in Tropical America and Florida.

Same for coconuts. Floating does not explain it all.  Turning first to “Pacific” Type V, ancient sailors transported them from the Philippines to Panama (bringing to mind Kon Tiki, and Easter Island).  After all, coconuts make ideal voyage provisions, offering pre-packaged food and water, and are a gift that keeps on giving if planted on islands along travel routes.  Later, Spanish seafarers carried Type V to Pacific Mexico.   Going in the opposite direction, other pre-Europeans spread Type V “Pacific” coconuts along ancient trade routes from Southeast Asia to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, where they mixed genes with the Type K coconuts probably brought there and to East Africa along more northern routes by ancient Asians and Persians.    That is, Madagascar was an ancient trade crossroads where the two types of coconuts arrived by two converging trade routes.    Coconut names followed the coconuts westward, from “buahniu” in the Tropical Pacific Bali to “voanio” in Madagascar.

How did they get to Florida?  Not by floating, but rather post-colonial traders likely provisioning ships from West Africa, coconuts having arrived there previously from India or nearby.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on September 17, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Honeycomb Heads Have Their Very Own Bee

Honeycomb Heads Have Their Very Own Bee

Balduina angustifolia

Asteraceae


One thing I like about the Hypoluxo Scrub in Hypoluxo FL is that many of the plants there are larger than their “ordinary” dimensions at  other local scrubs:   Big Slash Pines dominate rather than the expected smaller “Sand Pines,” Sand Live Oaks grow into genuine full-sized trees, Shrubby Gopher Apples tower three feet tall, and more.    It sort of has a magical wonderland feel (or yesterday more of a fire & brimstone feel at 97 degrees.)

Hypoluxo Scrub yesterday

My partner in botanical crime John Bradford created a superb guide to Hypoluxo Scrub in his you-dang-well-better-bookmark-it collection of visual guides to “Conservation Areas in Palm Beach County.”  CLICK NOW

Not bothered by the intense hypoluxo lux, the Honeycomb Heads were abloom.  Although they can perform sporadically through much of the year, autumn is their peak season, like so many members of their family.  And that bloom period matters to today’s feature of interest…the Honeycomb Heads.

HCH by John Bradford. Growing on sugar sand.

The name comes from the fruit cluster which resembles a honeycomb, or maybe a paper wasp nest.  

Honeycomb tan-colored at upper right, by JB

The cluster is remarkable seed packaging.   It is strong, stiff and a little prickly.   For those with northern plant experience, it reminds me of a small Teasel.   The globose cluster is made of numerous cone-shaped cavities radiating with the pointy ends inward,  separated by thin walls.  Each cavity houses a narrow conical “seed” (technically a caryopsis for sticklers who send condescending corrective e-mails after blogs).   The broad end of the seed has a ring of “fins” (pappus) sealing the entrance to the cavity.    Removed, the seed looks like a fuzzy rocket ship.

Seed (caryopsis) removed from is cavity in the “honeycomb.”

So why the bristly honeycomb, with sealed-in seeds?   The intuitive, and I believe true, answer is that the fruits develop in the moist autumn, and the babies sprout in the moist springtime.   In between comes the harsh winter season when the new seeds have to get through (at least) months of sun-cooked drought.   So why doesn’t the plant just drop them into the sand to wait favorable weather?   Ohhh, nasty, that’s like turning a 6th-grader out into the world.   The scrub sand blows in the wind, seed-eating varmints prowl the ground, and it is bone dry.     Yet in your protective honeycomb held safely aloft, nobody eats you, no blowing sand abrades or buries you, and who knows, (never studied) maybe that honeycomb catches some nice life-sustaining moisture.

by JB

Every now and then you run into a plant having an exclusive relationship with another species, like a middle-school ecology lesson.    Many insects visit the HCH flower clusters, arguably the most noteworthy being the Coastal Plain “Honeycomb Head” Bee (Hesperapsis oraria) CLICK. Unfortunately for local bee-lovers, it lives only in a small area along the northern rim of the Gulf of Mexico. The little bee visits only today’s species. Why!?  And why does it not hang out with its favorite flower across the entire range of the hostplant?  Oh the puzzlement of it all!   Maybe the bee’s range is broader then we know.   For us here in PB County, you can bet your sweet bippy that right there in Hypoluxo Scrub there are undiscovered bee-flower relationships.



Hey, here’s something cool while we are clickin’ around.  Some readers, especially in and near Martin County,  are familiar with Yard Doc Carol, Carol Bailey, expert Horticulturist, adjunct professor, and weekly garden writer.   During Covid Carol launched an on-line consulting biz.   She knows her stuff!  Check it out.  CLICK for Carol.    

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Indian Laurel Fig Has Two-Step Delivery


Ficus microcarpa

Moraceae


Every South Florida resident knows Ficus microcarpa as the ‘Green Island’ Ficus that has become a preeminent hedge and space filler selections in local landscaping.   It is bugproof and idiotproof, which is why I have it in front of my house.    Asking nothing in return, it just stays flawless green, and grows. 

When not serving as a hedge, “natural” Ficus microcarpa can grow into a giant multitrunked “banyan.”   Or to pivot to the small extreme, it is a favorite tropical bonsai species.   I have a couple of those on the back patio.   Or… it can be “the other” strangler fig in our area, sprouting on a host tree, and dropping its roots to the ground, wrapping the host in a “strangler” embrace in the process.  Ficus microcarpa is an unwelcome invasive exotic in natural areas.  One big “mother tree” can spawn many smaller-scale strangulations in its vicinity. 

A double tree. The larger light-colored individual on the right is a tamarind. The smaller darker green partner is a Ficus microcarpa on the tamarind.

How do you distinguish between Ficus microcarpa and the native Strangler Fig, Ficus aurea

Double your stranglers…this is a mix of F. aurea and F. microcarpa roots, competing to be #1 strangler.

Easy.   Ficus microcarpa lives up to its name by having micro fruits, its little figs ¼” in diameter, vs. twice as big in F. aurea, which also has larger leaves, say, 1.5” wide or wider, vs. about an inch wide and 2.5 inches long, and thick.  

Microcarpa fig and a dime

 Ficus microcarpa is so prone to thrips infestation that you can use the insect damage to help with identification, the thrips causing leaves to fold double and to deform with ugly spotting and crinkles.   Interestingly, however, ‘Green Island’ is generally free of thrips, and is also free of fruits.

Distinctive thrips damage

All of that is context for the cool thing.  Here it is.  How many plants do you know to use two-step seed delivery?  One step for long distance, then the second step local.  Today’s fig has spread all over the tropical world, and it then manages to sub-deliver its seeds into the nooks and crannies of host trees, or into cracks in concrete I-95 overpasses.   Its two step delivery was figured out back in 1991  by ecologists Sandra Kauffman and collaborators.   Birds who eat the figs handle the long distance airmail responsibilities. Toucans like them.  Then ants take over like creepy little mail carriers.  The seeds pass through the birds’ digestive systems with a layer of nutritive “ant food” intact ready to pay for ant services.   That layer is thin and hard to see, although the photo below captures it as the clear outer layer by the line on the right side of the seed.

Seed with ant food visible by the line


 
10 Comments

Posted by on September 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

October Flower is Fun to Watch


Polygonella polygama

(Polygonella means “little Polygonum.”   Polygonum is a related genus and may mean “many knees,” referring to thick nodes on the stem. Or, accoridng to Flora North America, it may mean “many seeds.” Polygama means polygamous.)

Polygonaceae


How do you observe Florida scrub when the dashboard thermometer says 94?   Fortunately for me, my wife Donna has happy weekly business in Boynton Beach on Thursday afternoons.  So I tag along, then while waiting, sneak off in the car to visit the great scrub sites down that way.  I use the car as an air conditioned observation post while seeing the botany adjacent to the scrub parking areas, followed by an iced coffee from a convenient Dunkin Donuts..   You can spot a lot from a parking lot.  This week’s destination was the Rosemary Scrub Natural Area, with I-95 along its west border. A little gem with a ton of biodiversity.

October Flower by John Bradford.

Two species are in full beautiful bloom all over the scrub: Eastern Mikpea (last week’s feature) and October-Flower here and now.   The October Flowers are covered with snow-white flowers on the sun-baked sand.  The thousands of blossoms, with males and females on separate plants,  turn pinkish-violet with age. Females mature into a small triangular fruit resembling buckwheat, no surprise give the family relationship.   The species is at home in harsh Florida scrub habitats and has “satellite” populations from Texas to the Carolinas.

By JB

To get to the cool insects,  October Flower was a hotbed of activity.   Its buggy visitors were diverse. Plenty of bees visit this species, and there is even one, Perdita polygonellae, that specializes on Polygonella.   Nonetheless, at Rosemary Scrub on 8/26/2021 October Flowers was favored by wasps and a huge weird fly.

JB

Today’s featured wasp certainly counts on bee visitorship.  Bee Wolf wasp (Philanthus sp.), well named, is a predator on bees.   The wasp lurks around flowery places and pounces on pollinating bees, stinging them into paralysis and carrying them back to the wasp’s tunnel-style burrow.   Worth mentioning, the wasp is armored against stings from the victimized bee.

Bee Wolf

A scary-looking visitor to the OF was the big-ol’ Mydas Fly shown below.  It is a harmless wasp mimic, as are many types of flies.  Nobody is going to mess with this gentle giant, which couldn’t harm a flea, although its larva would harm a beetle grub.  The larvae are subterranean predators regarded as beneficials in turf-growing situations.   The name Mydas is a tribute to King Midas, because Mydas Flies have gold markings.

King Mydas

Any bird watcher will tell us, “often it is best stay put and let nature come to you.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Leafcutter Bee Cuttin’ a Rug on Milkpea


Megachile sp. (the bee)

Galactia volubilis (the pea)

Fabaceae—the legume family


Today is movie day at the blog.  No worries, the movie only lasts a minute or two, literally. It shows the convergence of two wonderful species.

Milkpea by John Bradford

Eastern Milkpea is one of a trio of species so closely related they are tough to discriminate.  The present species is a climbing vine found across the southern U.S. and beyond.  It loves scrub habitats locally, and when spunky can cover old stumps, fallen trees, and living bushes.  

MP by JB. The pollen lies within the central groove.

Pea-type flowers are complex.   I always wonder to what extent they are specialized for certain pollinators or for pollinator groups, if not single species.  Yes, it is possible to find diverse visitors to a pea-flower-type. Even so, there may have been a “key demographic,” just like I am sometimes a “visitor” at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but not the target demographic.  Fact is, I’ve seen wasps and “other” bees on Eastern Milkpea, but it sure gets along well with Leafcutter Bees. The fact that the bee opens the flower to access the pollen, and then the flower snaps shut as the bee departs is remarkable in itself, IMHO.

Leafcutter bee, abdomen down

And why does a Leafcutter cut leaves?   Not for salad, but to line its nest in a hollow cavity.  Some folks who like them (I do) put out bundles of bamboo sticks, where the bees nest in the hollows.   They collect pollen by capturing it in the hairs on the underside of their abdomen, which consequently looks yellow on some individuals.  

Abdomen up

There must be a reason the bee raises its fanny, bending it toward is head.   It took some internet searching, but aha! there is it is, in a 1964 Masters thesis by a very observant C. E. Osgood (relevant passage shown at end of blog).  When the abdomen is lifted and bet forward the hairs spread apart out straight to gather pollen like a comb from the legs, then when the abdomen is lowered, the hairs  push the pollen up against the abdomen and trap it. More or less.

A movie was promised.  Get the popcorn. Here is the plotline:

  1. Leafcutter bee lands on Milkpea flower.
  2. The bee uses its hind legs to gather and transfer pollen to the abdomen, which requires a lot of moving the abdomen around. The pollen is yellow.
  3. Bee exists stage left.
  4. There’s more….
  5. Then look very very carefully and quickly:  at the center of the flower a tiny (I mean tiny!) black thrips (plant pest) pops out of the crease at the flower center for about a second, then ducks back into the groove. Why the furtivity?

Note: the cameo by the thrips is FAST. Don’t miss it.

  1. A gigantic (relative to the thrips) ant appears and seems to look exactly where the thrips was.   Can’t prove it, but I think that ant is hunting for some thrips.

Enjoy the show and CLICK HERE!

Yes, thrips is a singular word. “I saw a thrips today.”


Sez C.E. Osgood 164.
 
8 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

When Snails Collide With Trains


Lined Treesnail  and Its Giant Spider Pal


Florida scrub is home to even better creatures than the plants:  gopher tortoises, red widows, scrub jays, and so much more, not that scrub habitats are a joy to visit on a Florida summer afternoon.  It all started while looking for a way to put an hour to good use waiting for my wife’s business in the Boynton Beach City Hall.  I drifted to the nearby Seacrest Scrub, which led to a hot sweaty followup stopover in the Jupiter Inlet scrub today with tree snails on my mind. 

By John Bradford
By JB

Guarding the trailhead this Tropical Orbweaver was the size of a small frog, encountered while searching for tree snails.   The spider spreads a wide web by night, and is a sleeping giant by day, cuddling up with its legs pressed together on the undersides of curled leaves.  It can “tuck itself in” with silk pajamas.  After this distraction, on to the tree snails.

Underside of snoozing orbweaver, in a pawpaw leaf. Don’t rouse the sleeping giant!

Florida is home to a beautifully patterned tree snails with dozens of color variants in multiple genera.   They are more numerous around Miami and in the Keys where long ago they became a non-horticultural intersection between two early Miami horticultural Illinois-native transplanted titans, viz:

Titan 1.   William Krome (1876-1929) was the main construction engineer responsible for building the 128-mile overseas railroad out to the Florida Keys.    He also was an avid horticulturist, mainly interested fruit growing.   Krome’s homestead became a UF Research and Education Center where the breeding system of avocados was discovered.

Link to KROME

Titan 2.  Charles Torrey Simpson (1846-1932) was a  colorful, multifaceted, storied individual with several chapters in his life, a couple of them a little tainted.  Long story short, two points interest us today.  Simpson’s main career was a malacologist, a biologist who studies snails. His main (long) retirement second career was a rock star horticulturist/naturalist in the burgeoning Miami community.  Simpson was something of an environmental activist when it suited him, although he had no problem raiding natural areas to help himself to orchids and other native plants.

Fawning LINK to Simpson

Snail-hunting Simpson used Krome’s new railroad bridges and clearings for access to unexplored tree snail habitats, but at the same time, I believe, as an eyewitness, he disliked Krome’s destruction of the fragile Keys habitats.  (I cannot put my finger on it, but I think he criticized the RR habitat destruction in the Miami Herald. His general attitude on FL habitat destruction relative to the snails is mixed with description of walking the RR line in the Keys in the attachment at the end of the blog.)   Divine retribution for destroying even such modest works of Creation as snails was the 1935 Hurricane crumbling much of the overseas railroad into the sea.

Anyhow, it is fun and rare to spot a tree snail here and now, on a Hog-Plum (Ximenia americana) in the local scrub.   They are not hurting the tree, but rather consume algae and lichens from the bark.


To dig in deeper:

CLICK for more

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 13, 2021 in Uncategorized

 
 
%d bloggers like this: