Sunday, July 2, 2017

Blooms on the Bog, Bugs in the Blooms

It's orchid time in the bogs! Since my friend Emily and I are participating in an orchid survey for the Adirondack Botanical Society, we agreed to meet last Friday at an orchid-friendly bog we know of, to see what we could see and document it.  We're lucky we know of this bog, which is easily accessed by just stepping through a hedge and Voila!  There it is, in all its shrubby, sphagnumy, larchy, boggy magnificence!

And did we find orchids? Oh yes indeed! Especially the vivid-pink Grass Pinks (Calopogon tuberosus), growing in such abundance we could hardly count them all.

The Grass Pink Orchid is one of New York State's most common orchids, and certainly one of its most beautiful.

We also found dozens of White Fringed Orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis), although only one of them had yet to open any of its white fringed blooms.

But there were so many White Fringed Orchids with swelling buds, we had to be careful not to trample them.   We estimate they should all be in bloom in one or two weeks, and what a show they will put on then!

In the meantime, the Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) was putting on a glorious show of its own!

The Small Cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos) had bloomed weeks before, so we were already finding the still-green fruits scattered across the soggy sphagnum moss.

Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is another early bloomer that was now bearing fruits, little pink balls that were just as pretty as its tiny pink bell-shaped flowers had been.

When we come back in a couple of weeks to survey the White Fringed Orchids, I bet the Highbush Blueberry shrubs (Vaccinium corymbosum) will be ready to spill easy handfuls of ripe fruit into our eager hands.  We even got to taste a few berries that had already ripened.

I arrived early at the place where Emily and I had arranged to meet, and I was delighted to find my parking spot surrounded by numerous plants of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), some still in bud, but many in full glorious, fragrant bloom.

I have learned from experience that a flowering milkweed stand is a terrific place to observe insect behavior, so I occupied myself searching among the buds and blooms to see what I could see.  And it wasn't long before I spied that most common denizen of milkweed plants, the Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus).  This is an insect that spends its entire life-cycle on milkweed plants, having evolved certain strategies to make the most of its Asclepial homeland.

I was MOST excited to find evidence of the Red Milkweed Beetle's most important strategy. As we all know, if we've ever picked this plant, milkweeds ooze a sticky white latex when its stems or leaves are cut, and this latex would glue the beetle's jaws shut if too much of it got in its mouth while it fed on the leaves.  So the beetle moves "upstream" from where it will feed, and nips the main vein so the latex oozes out before it reaches the leaf edge.  Now the beetle may safely graze to its heart's content.  Here's a leaf showing both the nipped vein oozing latex as well as the leaf edge that the beetle has safely consumed. (That's the beetle's antenna poking out from behind another leaf.)

I always search among the blooming milkweed's florets to see if any bugs have gotten entangled in the flower.  Bugs' skinny legs can slip into the slits of the florets, and they then get caught in the threads that connect the milkweed's pollen bundles (pollinia).  That's the milkweed's strategy to get visiting insects to carry that pollen off to neighboring plants.  But not all insects are strong enough to jerk their legs free, and I've often found dead bugs dangling from the florets.  Today that trapped bug was still alive and struggling mightily to free its trapped leg.  Overcoming my instinct to swat it, I did pull the floret apart and watched this mosquito escape with a somewhat wobbly flight.  I hope that counts as good Karma for me!


Woody Meristem said...

There are few places more interesting than a wetland whether it's a bog, fen or marsh.

The Furry Gnome said...

A fascinating place, and interesting plants. Haven't visited a nice bog in a long time. But letting a mosquito go?