Many plants have coevolved with other organisms (pollinators) to such an extent that the main or only means the plant has of transporting the male elements (pollen) to the female element (ovule) to assure reproduction is through the intersession of the pollinator. And the same time, many pollinators have become dependent on the nectar and pollen produced by plants for their nutrition. It has been calculated that without pollinators a third of flowering plants would produce no seed and half of all flowering plants would have their fertility reduced by 80%. Pollinators are estimated to contribute 24 billion dollars each year to the US economy by making possible the reproduction of plants of economic importance. The phenomenon of pollination is an active area of research in disciplines such as ecology and evolutionary biology.
In the video bellow an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feasts on the nectar of the flower of a thistle plant promoting its reproduction in the process.
A wild plant took root in our garden. We decided to let it grow to see what it was. It turned out to be a Late-flowering Boneset Plant (Eupatorium serotinum), also known as Late-flowering Thoroughwort or just Late Boneset.
We immediately noticed that the plant was very fragrant and attracted quite a large number of pollinators. Below you can see a sampling of some of the pollinators that visited the plant.
It seemed that all these pollinators were having a good time feasting on the nectar of our boneset plant and contributing to its reproduction. However, we then spotted a large bug feeding on a bee it had just caught. We were surprised at the structure with spokes in the back of the insect. What was this bug?
The bug turned out to a specimen of Arilus cristatus, the North American Wheel Bug. It is presumably called this because the spoke-laden structure in their backs reminds people of a wheel. The wheel bug is a type of the so-called assassin bugs which belong to the family Reduviidae. These bugs stab their prey with their very sharp proboscis and injects them with enzymes that dissolve the interior of their bodies, which they then proceed to drain.
But the wheel bug was not the only assassin lying in wait on our boneset plant. We also spotted a praying mantis lurking among the stems and leaves.
The mantis spotted a bee and moved with lightning speed upon the hapless insect, which became its meal.
So it seemed that our boneset plant could also be a death trap for some of our pollinators. The wheel bug and the mantis are both ambush predators. They frequent scented plants that attract their prey and lie in wait for the right time to attack.
The drama of life and death in nature often unfolds right before our eyes, but we don’t notice it. And all it took was a fragrant plant in my garden to bring this reality to my attention.
All photographs belong to the author and can only be used with permission.