Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spider Versus Wasp

Blue mud daubers and other predatory wasps hunt spiders.  The wasps sting the spiders to paralyze them and then provision their nests with the spiders.  The wasps' larvae feed on the spiders.
  I saw the struggle out of the corner of my eye.  I actually caught some of it with my camera.  When I saw this wasp in the spider's web I wasn't sure who was going to win.
 While I switched to my zoom lens the wasp and spider disappeared.  Fortunately, I saw them at another window (a second story window).
The wasp carried the spider up to the top of the shutter and then went behind it, where I presume, there was a nest.
  Other spiders have webs at strategic places around the outside of the house where I hope to see the blue mud dauber in action again.  For that matter, any solitary wasp busy doing its thing, is something I enjoy observing.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bog Berries

There are berries in the bogs.  The wild blueberries are ripening!

Of course, there are almost always cranberries in the bogs.  
Here is a picture of my son's reaction after tasting one of last year's cranberries.
By his sour face you can tell he prefers the blueberries.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grass-Pink Orchid

The Grass-pink Orchid, Calopogon tuberosus, steals the show in the bogs right now.  Since orchids play tricks on bees, I'll demonstrate the grass-pink's bee flopping mechanism shortly.  First, check out the spectacular orchid flowers in these next pictures.
The Grass-Pink Orchid,  Calopogon tuberosus
When were slogging through the bog for these pictures, we would see some of the orchids here and some there. We would say, "Hey look at that darker one over there".... slog, slog ..."Oh, there's one growing on a rotting log"...slog, slog... "Whoa, the gulper almost got me there!"...."Wow, look there's a whole bunch!"
Earlier I said the Grass-pinks were stealing the show.  That is because they add a dash of brilliant color across the otherwise green bog.  Also, the purple pitcher plant's flowers have lost their petals and their charm.
 You can see some faded flowers of the once spectacular Purple Pitcher Plant in the background.  I wanted to focus on the new "bog star" in that photo.

The Grass-pink's flower looks upside down.  This upside down position is part of the bee-flopping design.
Bumblebees are attracted to the fringes (fake pollen), expecting some pollen.
 When a bee lands on that hinged upper part of the flower it gets flopped down on its back into that little cradle where the sticky pollinia is adhered to its back.
 Here is a demonstration.
 The bee lands on the fringes (below the pointing finger)
 and ends up on its back, sandwiched between the fringes and the column of the lower part of the flower.

The bee leaves this predicament with no reward and hopefully goes to another Grass-pink where the process is repeated.  Meanwhile, the orchid is cross-pollinated ... the purpose of this orchid's bee-flopping pollination mechanism.
 Wouldn't it be nice to have a different species of orchid to find every day?  Pity the bees if there were.
A bog beauty waiting to bop a bee.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Bog's Cranberries

The cranberry flowers tint the bog a pink color right now.

When I see the cranberries thick in a bog, I think of the story book, The Legend of the Cranberry.    Mostly because I like digging up mastodon and mammoth bones, but the book does talk about the cranberries.

Legends aside, it takes a few things working together to make cranberries.
Cranberry Flowers
The bumblebees and bees need to be busy pollinating the cranberry flowers.
Also, mycorrhizal fungi help supply the cranberry plants with needed nutrients.

Fungus might be on the roots, but what about the fruit?  
There are still cranberries on the plants from last year.

The bumblebees, the mycorrhizal fungi, and the bog's little cranberry plants serve up the berries for our cranberry sauce.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Firefly Signals

Firefly signals fill the summer evenings with magical moments.
I've always loved to look out across the field and watch those thousands of firefly signals flash their coded messages.  I also love to try to discern the various patterns of those codes.
Recently, I've been filling my camera card with those tiny flashing yellow lights.
Firefly Signal
 This firefly lights its light, swoops down a little, then flies up quickly, making a characteristic "J" pattern.

There are two "J"'s in the making on the left of the picture below.  Also, in the right 1/3 of the picture are two blinks of a couple of fireflies that just "blink" their lights.
That is at least two species of firefly.
Here is the third.
This species of firefly gives short burst as it flies straight down the lawn. A linear lightening bug.
Except for the mosquito bites, trying to capture pictures of those different signals was as fun as it used to be to catch a whole bunch of lightening bugs and put them in a jar. 
I think I'll try again.  Maybe my pictures will turn out better.
I might capture a whole card full of those magical lights.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mountain Laurel Launchers

The mountain laurel undergrowth out on our mountains is in full bloom right now.

Mountain laurel patches are difficult to walk through, but this time of year I can appreciate that pesky undergrowth because of its beautiful blossoms.

Of course, I am also fascinated with the mountain laurel's pollination system.  I am always amazed when I see a flower's ten stamens all bent over, locked in, and waiting to catapult its pollen at a bee. 

The booby-trap is set.
When a bee touches those spring-loaded stamens, they "fire" the pollen.  You could say that the flowers sucker the bees in to face the "firing" squad for a bit of nectar.

 Here we set off one catapult.  The curled up stamen launched the yellow string of pollen that is flying through the air in the upper left of the picture (between the two flowers).

Here several of the stamens fired and plastered the stick with pollen.

Most of the year mountain laurel is just a mess, but when I look at those locked in pollen launchers, I have to say that mountain laurel is lovely enough to live with.
A ring of "fire!" in each flower.
Ten mountain laurel launchers per flower.
Ten bee blasters.
With all those flowers, I'll bet the bees are having a blast!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dangerous Looking Dobsonfly

Just the other week I posted about finding hellgrammites that were beginning to pupate.  I mentioned that after they pupate they emerge as dobsonflies. Well, now those pupae must be hatching because the dobsonflies are starting to show up.
Male Eastern Dobsonfly
The male dobsonflies have those nasty-looking mandibles.  Those large mandibles look worse than actually are, although they do use them defensively.  In the ice cream bucket below, this dobsonfly is doing a couple of defensive actions.
   By the way, that isn't ice cream along the right wing of this dobsonfly; rather, it just sprayed some of its chemical defenses.  Dobsonflies excrete a foul-smelling liquid for defensive purposes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rose Pogonia

The Rose Pogonia Orchid is a little bog beauty.
 Pogonia ophioglossoides, the Rose Pogonia
 This little orchid bountifully adorns open patches of bogs. What a thrill to step out of the woods and see the bog decorated with these pink gems.
 Orchids each have their own pollination trick that they use on the pollinators.  What does the Rose Pogonia do to bees? 
   First, it attracts the bumblebees with pseudopollen (those yellow hairs that look like pollen) on a convenient landing pad.  Then when the bumblebee finds no reward, it pokes its head under that pinkish column where any pollen sprinkled on its back at previous pogonias will come in contact with the stigma.

 When the disappointed bee backs out, the hinged end of the column opens and dumps fresh pollen on the bumblebee's back.  Reminds me of a garbage truck dumping its load.
Nifty apparatus!

 Obviously, lots of bees get plastered as evidenced by the photo below.
The Rose Pogonia, a glittering jewel of the bog plants, growing thick in a Pennsylvania bog.

I hope lots of bumblebees get fooled again this year.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Purple Pitcher Plant's Flower

The Purple Pitcher Plant is one of my favorite bog plants.
   The Purple Pitcher Plant is a carnivorous plant with a beautiful flower.  I love to go to the bogs in early June and see those flowers hanging there like little red lanterns.

Purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea
   The Purple Pitcher Plant's flower is designed to have the pollinator pass the stigma as it enters the flower. This is for the purpose of fertilization from pollen of previous flowers.  Then the flower gives the pollinator opportunity to easily leave the flower's interior by numerous trapdoors after it has come into contact with the flower's own pollen.
 A bumblebee just entered this flower through the entrance window by the stigma and it can leave by pushing against one of the petal trap doors.

In this photo I lifted up one of the trap doors to reveal the flower's interior.  The photo below is a cut-away view of the flower

Cross-section of the Purple Pitcher Plant flower
 There is more pitcher plant information and a labeled cross-section of the flower on my web page about the Purple Pitcher Plant .
 I also posted about the Purple Pitcher Plant's Pitchers, and an introduction to the
Purple Pitcher Plant.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Purple Pitcher Plant Pitchers

The Purple Pitcher Plant has amazing leaves.

Sarracenia purpurea, the Purple Pitcher Plant
The leaves function as pitfall traps for insects.  They supply the "meat" for this carnivorous bog plant.
 The leaves are specialized for this trapping function in various ways. 

   First, the leaves are hollow in order to hold water. In the photo below, something had nibbled away parts of the hoods of these pitchers so now the water is more visible.
  The insects are drowned in this water and processed and utilized by various organisms, including the pitcher plant.
   Secondly, the pitcher's traps are baited by nectaries near the lip of the hood.  Also the plant has color patterns and odors to help attract insects.

 Thirdly, the pitchers have various means of causing the insects to loose their footing.
   The downward pointing hairs and the slick surfaces of the pitcher's inner surface funnel the insects toward their watery death.
   Here is a cross-section of a pitcher showing the hair-lined hood on the right and the dark muck of leftover insect parts an the left. 

You can see some lighter colored larvae of the pitcher plant midge in the dark muck.  These thrive there on the drowned insect parts despite the fact that the pitcher plant's water is lethal to many other insects
   I have a web page with a few more details on the processing of the insects that transpires in the pitcher's water as well as more pictures and information on the Purple Pitcher Plant.
   I also posted on this blog about the Purple Pitcher Plant.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What is attracting these ants? The Answer

In my last posts I asked if you can guess what is attracting these ants?
 I also showed a close-up of what the ants were after.
   I did have an unfair advantage because I could investigate where the little droplets were coming from.  All I had to do was look up and look for an ant farm.

Ants farming aphids
    Right above the leaves in question, the ants were farming aphids on the underside of a leaf.  Ants farm aphids by herding them, protecting them, and milking them.

Ant tending aphids
   Ants farm aphids so they can "milk" the honeydew the aphids excrete.  This sweet substance is a waste product of the aphids.  Since the aphids feed on plant sap they need to process a lot of sap to get enough essential amino acids. All that sap gives them too much sugar so they excrete the excess, the sugary liquid waste called honeydew.      In the photo below there is a group of aphids on the right side of the photo and concentrated on a leaf vein.  A small aphid is tipped up and is excreting a glistening drop of honeydew from its rear end.  Below the small aphid and to the left a bit is a larger aphid doing the same thing.

Now back to the question, "what is attracting these ants?" the answer is, "aphid honeydew".

   The ants weren't milking the aphids fast enough and so they just "let 'er fly".  The honeydew droplets landed on leaves lower down on the bush where other ants were imbibing the sweet honeydew drops.
   My backyard is a bonanza of astounding natural phenomenon.

Here is a link to an article on how ants herd aphids.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What is attracting these ants?

I noticed these ants on a leaf in my backyard.  An amazing amount of fascinating natural phenomenon transpires in my backyard. Can you guess what the main attraction is for these ants?

Here is a hint...
This photo shows what the ants were interested in. Check back tomorrow for the answer.