Thursday, July 25, 2013

Titan Arum: "Corpse Plant"

Okay--this is really off the beaten path.  Normally I don't post anything that you can't see here at our Museum, but I'm willing to make an exception in this case.  Recently, while on vacation in Washington D.C. I happened upon a very unusual bloom at the United States Botanical Garden--you may have heard about the blooming of the titan arum?  It has finished blooming, but I was lucky enough to be in D.C. for this spectacular event, which only lasted a couple of days.  According to the USBG, it started to open on July 21, 2013, started to close on July 22, and had collapsed by July 24.  I saw it on Monday, July 22.  The erratic blooming cycle can be every few years, but it may not bloom for decades--it's an energy intensive process, so the conditions have to be just right.  While I was there, it was in full bloom--but oddly enough I did not notice any "stinky" smell.  I overheard one of the curators explain that the ventilation system moved a lot of the stink away during the day, but it was noticeable in the evening.   The titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) is also called the "corpse flower" for its smell--like that of rotting flesh.  Why so stinky?  It's to attract pollinators like dung beetles and carrion beetles.  Native to tropical rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, the USBG specimen was not collected from the wild, but instead it's a donated seedling. They have several titans, and this one is about 7 years old and this was its first bloom.  It weighs in at about 250 pounds and though I'm not sure exactly how tall this particular one was, they can get up to 12 feet tall.  Enjoy!--Lisa

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bugs & Blooms 2

I've been out stalking bugs with my camera again, and I found a lot of interesting insects on some Queen Anne's lace...first, a flower scarab beetle--what cool markings!  
Lots of wasps were also attracted to this wildflower...first a potter wasp, so named because the female will make a mud ball nest in which to lay her eggs....
....The second kind of wasp I found was a great black wasp, also a type of solitary wasp that will dig tunnels underground.  The female will paralyze an insect and lay an egg on it--when the larva hatches out it has fresh food.  The adult wasps will feed off nectar, however.
Milkweed plants and flowers attract all sorts of insects--I know you're thinking of monarch caterpillars, but I haven't seen any yet.  What I did find were hundreds of aphids on the underside of the milkweed leaves:
I know, a bit freaky, especially up-close.  Not to worry, the insect cavalry was on its way--well sort of.  Here's a ladybug larva--adult ladybugs are fierce aphid hunters!
Also amidst the milkweed seed pods were milkweed bugs--here are two mating:
Up top, the milkweed blossoms attracted a variety of bees:
And speaking of bees, I watched several different types of bees zoom around bee balm flowers (also known as bergamot; native to North America, there are several species and cultivars, but the genus name is Monarda)  Here's a honey bee--hmmm, perhaps from our Museum's hive?
And a carpenter bee--notice the hairless, shiny black abdomen?
Carpenter bees are zippy, fast fliers and will stop and hover in front of your face if you get too close.  The males, distinguished by a white dot on their face, tend to hover more than females, but they cannot sting.  Females can sting, but aren't very aggressive as long as you don't threaten them.  This one is zooming towards some bright yellow St. John's wort flowers:
In contrast, note the fuzzy abdomen of bumblebees (also notice the pollen baskets on the hind legs)--this one is on the flowers of a bottlebrush buckeye:
That's all for now....more off the beaten path in two weeks!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hummingbird Moth

When you think of hummingbirds, you probably think of this, right?  This is a female ruby-throated hummingbird--no red throat like the males have, and notice the white tips of her tail feathers (that males do not have.)  I spotted this little gem as she buzzed around our new Children's Garden:
I've been trying to catch her on camera for a couple of weeks and just getting this close to her was gratifying enough, but, my heart really skipped a beat as I caught this beautiful little "hummingbird" in my lens:
Notice the size?  Sitting on a lantana leaf, you can see that it's huge--about two inches long!  What is it, you ask?  It's a clearwing hummingbird moth--I know, I know, it looks like a giant bumblebee, but it's not!  Here's a closer look at this remarkable creature:
I followed it as it zoomed around the garden and was able to get a few shots of it in mid-flight and you can also see its proboscis as it sipped nectar from verbena flowers--note that it is actually hovers over the flower:
Did you notice that even the "tail" of this moth looks like a hummingbird, with bristles on the tip of the abdomen fanning out just like a bird's tail?  I was privileged to watch this amazing animal for several minutes before it flew off.  I hope I can photograph it again's a daytime moth, so I'll keep a sharp lookout for it.  Hmmm....maybe I'll be spending more time in the Children's Garden!  More off the beaten path in two weeks....