The year 2020 has been smiling upon me with my attempts at photographing all the orchid species of Missouri. So far this year I have seen five new orchids and have photographed three of them in bloom. The focus of today’s post, Corallorhiza wisteriana, is known by its common names Wister’s coralroot or spring coralroot. The name coralroot is used due to the apparent likeness and growth habit of the plant’s rhizomes to undersea coral. There is one other known coralroot that I need to photograph in Missouri, that is the autumn coralroot, C. odontorhiza that I hope to photograph when it blooms this fall.
C. wisteriana is one of, if not the earliest orchid to bloom in the state. Going by the number of posts from folks on Facebook, and the fact that I and a couple of friends found well over one hundred stems with just a few minutes of searching, this species is having a terrific year.
This orchid is small, with a lowercase s. The leafless stems can grow 10 to 35 cm high and an individual flower when open is only but ~ 8 mm long – A challenge to photograph. I anticipated this, but what surprised me is its showiness. Looking closely, this plant is beautiful, with many stems and flowers colored deeply with maroons and purples and the labellum/lip with purple spots on white.
I found these flowering stems in singles, pairs and large-sized colonial groups. Typically, stems from these close groupings will be from the same plant. Below is from the largest colony I saw this spring.
Corallorhiza orchids are considered to be ‘myco-heterotrophic’ plants, meaning these plants parasitize mycorrhizal fungi (fungi that get their carbon needs from symbiotic relationships with green plants) to get their primary nutrients. Therefore these orchids contain little to no chlorphyll, do not produce leaves and photosynthesis is a very negligible part of how they make their living.
The photo above shows an aberrant flowering stem – the only one I found, that was very lightly colored and that had no spots on the labellum whatsoever. After realizing how strange this was, I went back to it a few days later to better photograph the whole stem. Alas, the stem was smashed because this was located on the very edge of the trail.
The preceding photo shows a hymenopteran nymph (~5 mm in length) that is hiding underneath this flower’s lip. I am unsure whether or not this insect is responsible for the webs seen here. These threads were often seen covering these orchids.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know this little beauty. Stay tuned for more orchid profiles in the near future!
Until this spring, I assumed that spring ephemerals, like Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) and others that begin flowering in early spring, did not provide much sustenance for early season pollinators. For no reason in particular, I assumed that most of these plants preferred selfing versus providing the resources to attract insect pollinators.
After taking a closer look at the blankets of C. virginica that lie on the slopes of Beckemeier Conservation Area near our house, my eyes were opened. I found pollinators everywhere on multiple trips during this long and cool spring. Unfortunately many species were so quick that they eluded me and my camera. However, I managed to nab a few of the more cooperative and with some help of those smart folks at BugGuide.Net, I got as close to the right identifications as I could.
Have you heard of oligolecty? Until doing this research, I had not either. Oligolectic is a term that describes certain bees species that have specialized preference to pollen from only specific plant groups – plants from a small group of genera, a single genus, or in this case, one single species.
The spring beauty bee (Andrena erigenidae) is a mining bee (Andrenidae) that feeds exclusively on the pollen and nectar of C. virginica. In fact, the larvae of this species cannot grow optimally on any other pollen source. So, it may not come as a surprise that this was the most common bee I found foraging on the fields of spring beauty.
These mining bees will take the pollen during a flight run that may last up to more than an hour and then bring it back to their self-constructed nursery hole in the ground. There they will turn the pollen into cakes and lay a single egg on each. This will be all the material needed for an individual larvae to develop into an adult.
The next pollinator is a bee from the same genus, Adrena. This is a huge genus, comprised of more than 450 species in the U.S. Most often they are impossible to identify to species without having the bee in-hand and available for close inspection.
This beautiful and hairy ginger was considerably larger than the previous Andrena. I estimate this bee was about two-thirds the size of the domesticated honeybee.
I’m not sure if this individual was a male, or if it was only interested in getting nectar, but I never saw this species actively collecting pollen from C. virginica.
The long tongue on this one will allow for it to collect nectar from a larger variety of flowers, while the hairs on this bee definitely help it meet its pollinator status.
I found a couple cuckoo bees foraging amoung the C. virginica as well. This “nomad cuckoo” pictured below is a cleptoparasite, meaning the female will lay its egg inside the nest of a different host species. The cleptoparisitc larvae will hatch first and will often kill the eggs or larvae of its host and then use the pollen provisions the host mother left to complete its development. This particular genus, the Nomada, is known to primarily use species in the above discussed Andrena genus as its host.
The cuckoo wasp, like this metalic green beauty in the Chrysididae family are also cleptoparasites that likely will use Adrena bees as hosts.
Bees and wasps were not the only pollinators I found on spring beauty. I also found a couple species of ants (not pictured because they never stand still long enough) and a couple of dipteran species, like this tachinid fly.
I now want to introduce what was probably the most interesting thing I learned about spring beauty this year. Having been able to work on Asian Soybean Rust for a couple years during my career, I have since been very interested in the complex life-cycles of plant rusts. I suppose due to the dense population of C. virginica at this location and the cool and wet spring we have had, I found that many plants were infected with spring beauty plant rust (Puccinia mariae-wilsoniae). With just taking a cursory estimation of the hillsides, I think that as many as 50% of this population was infected with this rust. When I took the succeeding photo ( I so wish I had taken more and better photos of this), little did I know that my investigation would take me into a complex relationship that not only involved this plant host and rust relationship, but would also involve slugs (yes slugs) and the very pollinators that enticed me to bend the knee in the first place.
I am sure that anyone who has taken the time to appreciate spring beauty more than during one season and/or place has noticed the variability in flower parts coloration. The majority of what is to follow here comes from an intriguing bit of work by Frank Frey (2004). C. virginica can vary from almost completely white to being mostly colored with pink to mauve to crimson stripes and other floral parts. Frank describes that plants that with higher levels of theses reddish pigments are preferred by pollinators and therefore, “…floral redness was associated with higher percentage fruit set.” Well then, this should beg the question, if this is the case why are there still plenty of individuals and populations of the less-fecund whitish pigmented flowers? Shouldn’t selection have taken care of this by now?
Here is where the slugs and rust comes into the story. These two, surprisingly, affect opposing selective forces on the coloration of C. virginica flowers. Plants with more white-colored flowers hold up better against predation by slugs due to the anti-herbivore properties of the flavonol pigments that produce the white coloration in these plants. In addition, for reasons that are not completely understood, the rust pathogen does better at infecting and propagating new spores on plants with redder-colored flowers. This was eye-opening for me to learn that something besides pollinator preference was manifesting a selective force on floral morphologies.
This is a highly simplified summary of the story this paper holds. I highly encourage you to check it out for yourself by following the link below.
I love the never ending stories that can be learned from a single, common and seemingly simple spring ephemeral wildflower. I’m sure that spring beauty still has a number of stories to tell. I wish I had taken more photos of the rust and I will try and see if I can find plants with telia, the next form of spore-producing legion by this rust. It occurs later in the lifecycle of the plant. I just hope I’m not too late to get it this season.
I’ve been fortunate enough to find time to get out this spring and add some spring ephemeral wildflowers to my photographic list. Englemann Woods NA near Wildwood, MO has been a great place for this along with other nature observations. Today’s photo is Trillium flexipes. It is one of the white trillium that can be somewhat confusing to identify properly. I found a number of associated common names, but ‘nodding trillium’ seems to be the most commonly used.
The WGNSS Nature Photography Group met on September 1, 2018 at Don Robinson State Park in Jefferson County, MO, with the goal of finding slug moth caterpillars and whatever other macro subjects of interest we could find. Overall, I think we had good fortune on this hot and muggy, late-summer day, finding quite a few interesting caterpillars. The slug moth caterpillars were a little scarce, but we did find a little something extra special – the pin-striped vermilion slug moth (Monoleuca semifascia) (Hodges # 4691). In four summers of looking for slug cats, this is the first one I have seen. It is a southern species and I assumed it would need to be found in the south-western part of our state where the open barren woodlands and savanna type environments this species prefers are more common.
This is the 14th of 15 species of slug moth caterpillars that are found in Missouri that I have been able to see and photograph. One more to go!
Slug cats can be found on virtually any species of woody plant in the state. Although oaks and hickories seem to be the preferred host plants, this animal was found on an eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
I hope these photos make it obvious why hunting these cats can become quite addictive.
The WGNSS Photography Nature Group met at Cuivre River State Park on Saturday the 2nd in hopes to find members of Limacodidae (slug moths). Perplexing to me, we struck out in the same time and place I found them in numbers and diversity a year ago.
It was still a good time. We found a number of other macro subjects and explored a couple of new places. I also got to give a first spin to my new lens. A wide-angle macro – the Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro. A rather new lens design and one with a pretty steep learning curve, these photos are really just practice. With time and strategy, I think I can get better at this.
Two areas to focus on in improving with this lens:
1) Getting a better handle on exposing for the environment (background) while getting the right amount of light from the flash to properly expose the foreground macro subject. I think this should be easier to predict with practice. I’m not at all sure that I can ever get it on a first try.
2) Figuring out how much dof is just right. Sometimes getting more detail in the background will be desirable. Other times, it is best to blur it out to bring focus on the primary subject.
This is a funnel web or grass spider (Agelenopsis spp.) that we found protecting her egg sack on the leaf of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). She will likely guard the eggs here until the winter takes her.
One of the nice finds of the day was this Black-waved Flannel Moth (Megalopygidae – Lagoa crispata (4644)). One of the key features of this lens is being able to focus close enough to the primary subject for macro-level detail while capturing so much more in the subject’s environment. In this case, I tried to give the perspective of what it may be like for the bug when being discovered by entomologists or nature photographers. Pictured left to right are WGNSS members Rich Thoma, Dave Seidensticker and Casey Galvin.
After the group disbanded at Cuivre River SP, Miguel Acosta and I decided to visit and explore Little Lost Creek Conservation Area near Warrenton. We hiked about 6 miles and I camped there the following evening. I took a quick photo hike in the morning and found these two Brown Stink Bugs (Pentatomidae – Euschistus servus) in copulation. They didn’t like that lens being so close and kept moving to the opposite side of the boneset (Eupatorium) blooms.
Members of WGNSS Entomology and Nature Photography Groups met on June 24th, 2017 to see what interesting insects could be found. In this post I am sharing a few of the more interesting that I was able to get photographs of during the day. The find of the day had to be the Cerambycid pictured above that was, by no surprise, found by Ted MacRae.
We found that blooms were a great way to find beetles. It is easy to see how the delta flower scarab (Trigonopeltastes delta) got its name.
Cerambicids like this flower longhorn can readily be found on blooms.
The banded netwing beetle (Calopteron reticulatum) are easy to find, often located in the open atop vegetation. They rely on aposematic coloration to advertise that they carry aboard chemical compounds that make them a distasteful meal.
The Hymenoptera were well represented on blooms of wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Queen Ann’s lace (Daucus carota) and as pictured above, fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). I find the native bees to be tricky to identify by photographs, but I believe this can be placed in the genus Agopostemon. These bees nest in the ground and to promote them, leave patches of soil exposed somewhere in your yard.
This cleptoparasitic Coelioxys exclusively parasitizes the nests of bees in the Megachile genus.
Besides being a bizarre little pollinator, this scaly bee fly is a cleptoparasite of cabronid wasps.
Not to leave out the Leps, this double-toothed prominent moth larvae was found. These guys have developed very effective camouflage that allows them to blend in and resemble the toothed, wavy margins of their elm (Ulmus) host plants.
With some extra nature time last week, I hit the trails at Shaw Nature Reserve hoping to get some shots of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) being visited by its pollinators – particularly the small solitary Halactid bees. The problem I had on this day is that these bees don’t typically like to be very active on cloudy, grey days. There were a few flies visiting the spring ephemerals, but they were much to flighty to bother with. So, I decided to give some attention to the Linderabenzoin (spicebush) that were blooming in abundance along the river bottom trails. My goal then became to document the pollinators that visit this early-blooming bush.
One of the more obvious of these pollinators that I found was this sawfly. This is my best guess on identification. This sawfly was quite small and by the looks of it, is quite an efficient pollinator.
Probably the most abundant pollinator I came across were these Tachinid flies (again, flies are difficult and I could be wrong).
The hair-like setae that probably serve to aid the fly in responding to changing air pressures also serve as nice holders to move pollen from flower to flower.
I also found a number of multicolored asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Typically predators of aphids, these beetles are also known to feed on pollen. This is what I figure was going on in the image below. Since there are probably few aphids to be found during the early spring, with few leaves being available, pollen is the next best protein source. I suppose there could be aphids to be found hiding within the flowers, but did not inspect closely enough.
Probably my favorite find of the day were several flies of the family Empididae. These are fascinating flies that are primarily predatory, but a few taxa will visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen.
Within this family are at least a few where the females will not hunt themselves, instead relying on a “nuptial gift” of a prey item from a male. Males of some species will wrap their gift in a silk wrapper. In these taxa the sex roles will often be reversed – the females courting the males to get these gifts and the opportunity to mate. In at least one species, the females will inflate themselves grossly with air to give herself the appearance of being bound with eggs and fecund, to trick the male into thinking she is a prime candidate to provide his gift and have the opportunity to mate with.
At least one species has taken this system a step further. The males no longer provide a prey wrapped in its decorative covering, but simply provide the silken covering, or balloon, giving them the name “balloon flies”. The photo below provides a good look at the dagger-like moth parts that give these guys another of their common names. Another overlooked beneficial fly. Not only do these guys prey on mosquitoes and other potential pest insect species, but their larvae are also predatory, feeding on insects in the soil and leaf litter.
I’ll leave you with one final image. This one isn’t a pollinator of the spicebush, but potentially feeds on its leaves in summer. What I believe this to be is a (Camptonotus carolinensis) Carolina leaf roller that was parasitized by one of the “zombie fungi”, potentially Cordyceps sometime last summer or early fall. This poor cricket was infected with this fungi that took control of its “mind”, forcing it it to climb high up on a branch of the spicebush. Once there, the fungi used the cricket’s resources to fruit and spread its spores from this higher location in order to reinfect others.
This gorgeous redhead is the White-marked Tussock Moth (Lymantriidae – Orgyia leucostigma – 8316). I was amazed at how abundant they were and routinely found on the underside of leaves on woody plants this summer. Most folks have never seen one!
Besides their striking colors and patterns, these moths have toxin-filled hairs that can cause irritation, especially to areas of sensitive skin. I have not yet photographed an adult, but I was interested to hear that the females of this species are nearly wingless and cannot fly.