Friday, June 26, 2009

The Revenge of the Forbs

Rain storms off and on all day. Not conducive for setting out on far-flung adventures. So off to the Skidmore Woods I went, just for an hour or so. The woods are very dark, now, with the canopy fully closed over. But still, a few flowers are about to bloom in that deep, deep shade: Helleborine (an alien but non-invasive green orchid), Pointed-leaf Tick Trefoil, and Lopseed were three I saw in bud today. Out in the clearings, the meadow flowers were in their glory: Milkweed, Bedstraw, Black-eyed Susan, Wild Basil, Deptford Pink, Whorled Loosestrife, Thimbleweed Anemone. Just to name a few.

Showy Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) will later bloom in the sun as well. That is, if there's anything left of the plants, after these beetles have had their fill.

What is this beetle with a big appetite for Showy Tick-trefoil?

I have never seen any pests bother tick-trefoils of any kind before. But these plants were being shredded by mobs of these beetles. What's going on this year? Our native viburnums are decimated by beetle larvae, and now I see some kind of disease is attacking various shadblows. The leaves on my backyard shadblow are yellowed and curling, and here's a photo of the distorted fruit I found on all the shadblows growing up on a mountainside in Moreau Lake State Park this week. No viburnum berries, no shadblow fruits. What will the birds eat this year?
In Moreau State Park, the shadblow fruits were distorted and hard,
not fit for man nor bird to eat.
And look at those tiny prongs on top: have aliens landed?

So wishing bad cess on destructive pests, I felt a little twinge of satisfaction when I found Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) poking its bright yellow heads above the water of a Skidmore pond.

Common Bladderwort, a floating rootless plant of ponds, feasts on underwater creatures.

For this is a plant that turns the tables: this is a plant that eats bugs. Very tiny ones, anyway: ones that are small enough to be sucked up into this plants utricles, the pinhead-size bladders that grow by the hundreds all over the feathery underwater structures of this unrooted floating plant. When "prey" comes near, these bladders suddenly inflate with water, sucking the creature in. Then enzymes and bacteria digest the victim, and special cells then channel the nutrients into the stem, deflating the bladder, resetting it to trap again. (For more information about this amazing plant, pick up a copy of John Eastman's Book of Swamp and Bog. It's chock full of fascinating information about plants and animals, including all I know about bladderworts.)

And here's another plant that traps bugs (although it doesn't eat them): Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

No matter how they jerk and dance, some flies can't get free of milkweed plants.

The drooping pink ball-like floral cluster is made up of individual flowers . Each of these flowers is circled by five little slits at its base, and each of these slits contains a set of two pollen sacs connected together by threads. The feet of this visiting fly slipped into the slits and got tangled up in those threads. So far, so good. That's what's supposed to happen. The fly jerked some of its legs free (you can see the yellow pollen sacs attached to its free legs), but at least one got permanently wedged. That fly jerked and pulled and jerked and pulled, but just could not get free. I didn't see how I could help. Too bad. (Yes, I actually did feel sorry for that fly.) And sometimes this happens to bees and butterflies as well. Really too bad.

Nature's systems don't always work perfectly. Guess she has a few "bugs" to work out.


Ellen Rathbone said...

I've submitted your beetle for ID. Now we wait for an answer.

Nice shot of the fly and the milkweed!

Ellen Rathbone said...

It is a clay-colored leaf beetle (Anomoea laticlavia), aka: persimmon leaf beetle, and it is an invasive (surprise surprise).

Lizzy Balter said...


Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Ellen, you sure know how to get the answers! When I sought further info, I learned this beetle is not much of a pest. Tell that to the tick-trefoils.

Thanks, Lizzy, for stopping by to say hi to your grandma. Isn't Nature amazing?

Jens Zorn said...

I'm glad to see you use a term, "bad cess", that should stay in our active vocabularies.