I’ve spent pretty much all of my life living in urban areas where the natural ecosystem has been effectively destroyed, so sometimes I forget that nature is a vast entity that we still don’t really know all that much about. Dodging cars within the 150 acres that is the Tufts campus makes it very easy for me to forget that the whole world isn’t all pavement and buildings.
In fact, people are still discovering new species of orchids, frogs, butterflies you name it. Here are some examples of really insane species interactions that make me happy that wild places still exist.
#1: Orchids that are butts? Stellilabium josti Dodson is a very tiny orchid discovered in 2003 in Mera, Ecuador, that has a very creative pollination strategy. It mimics a female fly’s rear end in order to get male flies to try to mate with it; when they attempt to do so, they get covered in pollen that they then spread to other orchids.
#2: Orchids that are bucket traps? Euglossine bees are a tribe of bees that have evolved specifically to pollinate orchids. Orchids secrete smelly compounds that attract the bees, and the bees flock to the orchids to try to collect them. Coryanthes is a genus of orchids known as bucket orchids — as the name suggests, they are shaped like buckets. Their smelly compounds are on the inside lip of the flower, and when bees attempt to collect them, they end up falling into the flower’s liquid-filled bucket. The liquid makes it impossible for them to fly, so the only way they can exit is through a pollen-filled tube, which coats the bee entirely in pollen and gives it the opportunity to dry off. The bee then repeats the process for other bucket orchids, pollinating the flowers.
#3: Ants that kill trees? Myrmelachista schumanni is an ant species in the Amazon that has a dedicated symbiotic relationship with the tree species Duroia hirsuta. In exchange for a safe home inside the tree’s bark, the ants kill all surrounding trees by injecting them with formic acid, eliminating all competition for the Duroia trees. Locals refer to the resulting clearing as a “devil’s garden.”
#4: Trees that bleed? Sangre de Drago (Dragon’s Blood), or Croton lechleri, is a South American tree found mostly in Ecuador and Peru. When you cut into it, it exudes a deep red latex, which makes the tree look as though it’s bleeding. Ironically, the latex can actually help wounds scar faster, amongst many other health benefits.
The connections between all of the living things on this world are endlessly complex and intricate, products of millions and billions of years of processes and just plain randomness. I don’t know what it all means, but trying to wrap my head around it all always helps me puts into perspective just how bizarre our very existence on this planet really is.