Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Flower Updates, Nectar-Robbing Bees, and a Tangent of Great Irony and Sadness

Today I have a couple of updates, a new/old flower, a new example of a type of pollinator relationship we’ve seen earlier this year, and a Tangent of Irony and Sadness.

They Are Everywhere

First, the tantalizingly paracarnivorous Sticky Geranium, Geranium viscosissum (pic right). When I first mentioned this guy, it was when I’d first observed its cousin, Richardson Geranium, growing on the aspen-forest floor North of Jeremy Ranch. I talked about how there’s evidence that it might be para- or protocarnivorous, and mused about how much I’d like to see one. Then I mentioned it again when I returned from California and found it blooming in our back yard garden. Well now I almost feel a bit silly. Thursday I biked the Northern end of the Mid-Mountain trail in Park City and the trail was positively lined with Sticky Geraniums. Sunday I rode up the Mill Creek Drainage (Great Western Trail) to the crest of the Wasatch, and the wide open basin in the upper drainage was filled with P. viscosissum as well. You can’t swing a dead cat in the Wasatch right now without hitting a clump of Sticky Geraniums.

Way Bigger

The Mid-Mountain trail, and the trails through The Canyons resort connecting to it (Specifically Rob’s Trail) are also loaded with Wild Rose, Rosa woodsii (pic right), with flowerheads much bigger and showier than those I noticed last week in Dry Creek.

At Times I Am So Lazy And Disorganized That It Takes Me A Year To Get Around To ID-ing A Flower I’ve Seen 8 Zillion Times

There’s plenty of new stuff blooming at the ~8,000 feet level as well. I’ll cover Blue Columbine in a follow-up post, but I feel I should mention this guy, Scarlet Gilia, Ipomopsis aggregate, If this fellow looks familiar, it’s because it was the flower featured in my very first post. At the time I was just digging through old photos to find an inspiring-looking flower; I didn’t even know what it was. Now it’s blooming all over the place.

Scarlet Gilia is a good place to talk about Nectar-Robbing Bees. Scarlet Gilia has a deep, narrow, tubular flower, and so its most effective pollinator is something that can reach down into the bottom with its bill, tongue or proboscis, such as a Hummingbird or Hummingbird Hawk Moth, and in doing do get its bill/proboscis coated with pollen, which it then takes to the next flower. The same is true for other deep, tubular flowers, such as Low Larkspur and Blue Columbine.

Now the common native Bumblebee in these parts, Bombus occidentalis, is also an important pollinator of many other flowers. But with many of these deep, tubular flowers, such as Scarlet Gilia, its proboscis simply isn’t long enough to reach the nectar at the bottom of the flower. But Bombus still wants the nectar. So she chews a hole in the bottom of the flower, and sucks out the nectar, while never even brushing the stamens, and flying on, pollen-free, to the next flower. In this case the bee gets what it wants (nectar), but the Scarlet Gilia receives no pollination benefit.


Now if this sometimes-mutualistic-sometimes-predatory relationship story sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard it before way back when, albeit in a different context, when we looked at Corvids and Pines, or more specifically the mutualistic relationship Stellers Jays have with Pinon Pines vs. their predatory/parasitic relationship with Whitebark Pines.

For me, this is another cool aspect of the Beauty of the World. As we look at more living things and the relationships between them, we start to see common patterns and the various plants and bugs and critters start to fit together in the living world like pieces of a great puzzle.

Speaking of Hummingbirds, my daughter found this dead Black-Chinned male on a neighbor’s porch.

Tangent of Great Irony and Sadness

Tangent: So it occurs to me that the last time I blogged about hummingbirds, the post featured live hummingbirds and a dead cat. My neighbor swears that her cat nabs birds in mid-flight, and is willing to bet that this here hummingbird my daughter found on her porch was killed by her (the neighbor’s not my daughter’s- we’re non-pet people… but that’s a really long, involved and self-absorbed tangent…) cat. And I can’t escape the irony of this next hummingbird-related post featuring a live cat and a dead hummingbird…

The photos give a feel for the delicate beauty of its form, feathers and colors (though I was unable to capture the shifting, elusive violet tone of the black chin-feathers) as well as the tip of the tint delicate tongue protruding from the tip of the bill. Like I said before, it's a far more elegant and sophisticated package than any set of road-pedals I ever bought.

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