Tour to Neocene
The ice age at the border of Holocene and Neocene had caused
serious changes in nature of the Earth. Borders of natural zones have shifted
from poles to equator, and the continuous zone of rainforests has turned to
some separated sites, biggest of which has remained in Amazon region. The second-largest
area of rainforest growth in ice age was Southeast Asia.
In Neocene the climate became warmer and humid. Tropical rainforests have returned back the positions lost even in human epoch and have formed the evergreen “belt” encircling the Earth along the equator again. This is one of the richest in life natural communities of the Earth. Rainforest is clearly divided to levels, and each of them is populated with its own lifeforms. In rainforest there is a very thin layer of ground, and fauna of underbrush is rather poor. It is the result of two circumstances. First, trees of tropical forest grow actively all year round and at once use for their growth the mineral and organic substances formed during rotting of fallen foliage and wood. And second, dense forest canopy intercepts almost all light from above, and inhabitants of underbrush live in constant twilight. Only very few kinds of grassy plants are capable to grow in dense shadow, and sprouts of trees patiently wait for the opportunity for growth, remaining dwarfs not higher than one meter for many years in succession.
The main biomass of tropical forest is concentrated at the height of several tens meters above the ground, in tree crones. The greatest specific variety is observed here. The branches bound by lianas allow smaller animals moving in forest canopy as easily, as on the ground. Mammals, birds, reptiles and insects find in forest canopy enough food for all tastes. Tropical forest gives them numerous opportunities, but this circumstance derivates strict competition. Therefore many inhabitants of forest canopy express strict specialization to their habitat and depend in the greater degree on well-being of tropical forest.
Plants of forest canopy compete not less strictly than animals do. Some plants have fast growth and are capable to choke competitors even in underbrush. Others receive the place in forest canopy using a kind of insidiousness: they simply destroy tree on which they have settled, gradually replacing it. The third ones ruin sprouts of competing species, emitting strong phytoncids, supressing their growth. Among plants of tropical forest there are various parasites sticking to another’s roots and growing sizable due to other trees.
Very characteristic vital form of plants in forest canopy is an epiphyte. These plants use large tree only as a support, and receive nutrients from rotting vegetative rests gathering in forks of branches or in their own leaves modified for this purpose. Sometimes the mass of epiphytes happens so great, that the big tree does not endure their weight. Then its branches break, and the old tree may fall entirely. But it gives an opportunity for growth of seedlings of other trees. In tropical forest life and death are indissoluble, and the death of one live creature gives an opportunity for survival of another one.
Among epiphytic plants the prominent place is occupied by representatives of orchid family. These plants form large thickets in branches and among cushions of mosses. Above dense leaves flower stalks tower, on which flowers of various sizes and whimsical shapes blossom. Their colouring includes numerous shades from snow-white up to dark purple and greenish. The anatomy of flowers of some species of orchids makes them accessible to many kinds of pollinator insects at once, and other orchids form the close union only with one or few species of pollinator insects, and nectar from these flowers is inaccessible to casual visitors. The secret of success of this rather young family of flowering plants is hidden in this variety. Due to specialization to the pollinator and to the original anartomy of flower orchids avoid a competition to each other for pollinating insects. In addition in such way they keep genetic isolation – in human epoch it was known that various orchids can give fertile hybrids, and even in nature hybrid plants appeared occasionally.
For rainforests of Southeast Asia epiphytic orchids of Dendrobium genus are characteristic. They are rather diverse in sizes. Some tiny species settle in crevices of rocks and in moss, and in tropical forest rather large species struggle for a survival. One species of forest Dendrobium orchids attracts insects with bright yellow flowers with orange strokes on petals. This bright background is streaked with set of thin brown cross strokes. Colouring of petals of plant resembled color of wool of tiger – an animal lived in these places in human epoch and dyed out for a long time. This orchid is named because of it as tiger-striped dendrobium.
This species of orchids is poorly specialized to strictly determined species of pollinator. On its flowers various butterflies feed, and also there are small solitary bees and wasps, sparkling with their metal shine and equal to butterflies in brightness of colors. The plant involves them with delicate aroma.
Someone’s success frequently caused in people envy and desire to take advantage of results of another’s work. Sometimes in nature there are phenomena which may be compared to the most negative displays of human sins. The success of a certain species in struggle for existence causes to life various phenomena which could seem extremely unpleasant from the human point of view. But nature is too far from human norms of morals, and vital strategy which results in success in struggle for existence is supported by natural selection despite of what forms it takes.
Tiger-striped dendrobium grows on tree branches in large bushes which may weigh some kilograms and total over 30 stalks. Some stalks in one bush of dendrobium differ from others. They are appreciably inflated and curved, and leaves on these shoots are much larger, rather than on other shoots of this plant. Stalks are deformed so, that it seems, as if under thin skin of stalk two plants grow and struggle. However, it is not simple impression. Among flower stalks formed on bush of tiger-striped dendrobium there are such ones, which differ from the others. Flowers on them seem little bit darker because of more often brown strokes on petals, and orange strokes on them are almost not present. Tiger-striped dendrobium has wide labellum of purple color with white edge. But on flowers differing from its flowers labellum is narrower and more extended, and its shape is a little bit different. These flower stalks appear not in leaf axils, but from pinkish tuber-like outgrowths formed in the basis of deformed stalks. These are flowers of different orchid species. Two orchids grow and form unbreakable pair – these are parasite and its host. Tiger-striped dendrobium is a host plant, and its parasite is deceitful twin orchid, the representative of another genus of the same family.
Deceitful twin orchid not simply parasitizes on dendrobium, receiving from it all nutrients necessary for growth. Such primitive tactics would result in fast destruction of the host plant and to the end of existence of the parasite. Therefore the parasitic orchid supports the existence of tiger-striped dendrobium plant on which its own well-being depends. Between two species of orchids there is a connection closer and thinner, rather than simply physical one – it is a connection on hormonal level. Deceitful twin orchid produces phytohormones causing the more intense growth of stalks of the host plant infected with it. The feedback also exists: readiness of the host plant for flowering serves as stimulus for flowering for the parasite. In such a way both species of plants synchronized their life cycles; they begin blossoming and fructifying simultaneously in fact. Evolution has perfected the deceptive external similarity between flowers of parasite and its host, and insects not too successfully distinguish these species of plants. But the smell of flowers of parasite orchid differs a little: it is spicier and has slight putrefactive shade. Therefore above flowers of deceitful twin orchid not only pollinators of tiger-striped dendrobium hover. Among pollinators of deceptive orchid there are another insects also – beetles and flies. But butterflies willingly visit flowers not only of dendrobium, but also of its parasite.
During millions years of evolution insects and plants have formed the close union. Flowering plants receive from insects the pollinating service, and insects search for food in flowers. Visiting of flowers is vital, but quite can appear dangerous for life. Some small predators use the appeal of flowers for insects for their own benefit and catch pollinating insects right on flowers. In Holocene epoch on flowers mantids and spiders hunted, skillfully imitating their shape and color. In Neocene other mimics have increased to them.
Above flowers of tiger-striped dendrobium wasps and butterflies hover. For the most part of these insects nectar represents the basic food, and they constantly may be met on flowers of various plants. But some insects can easily find on flowers not food, but death. Large butterfly of swallowtail family hovers majesticly above an inflorescence of an orchid, going to drink nectar. Butterflies are not always the best pollinators for orchids. In due course of evolution the plant arranges from its flowers sophisticated traps for small insects and forces them to creep along the certain route, and after that on their bodies pollinia – lumps of pollen on sticky pedicles – are pasted. But butterflies easily bypass these traps – using long proboscii they get nectar, “evading” from pollinator duties. Swallowtail also expects for the plentiful regale not spoiled by lumps of pollen pasted to head. Having landed on flower and having raised bright wings, the butterfly unwrapped its proboscis and sucked nectar from flower. But, when it creeps on the next flower, that one suddenly comes to life. Petals close, and the flower rocks slightly. Suddenly the butterfly has trembled wings, trying hopelessly to fly up, but it was the last thing it could make in its short life. The rear leg of an insect which skillfully simulated flower of tiger-striped dendrobium, waiting patiently for involuntary admirers of its art of imitator, has seized thorax of swallowtail butterfly. The butterfly is caught, and it has no opportunity to escape. The successful hunter is orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug – a bug of bright colouring with flat body and wide leaf-like outgrowths on tibiae of rear pair of legs. Colouring of wings of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug precisely imitates petals of this orchid. The shape of its body is also rather fanciful. On head of this bug flat outgrowth extended forward with wavy edges grows, imitating top sepal of orchid flower. And its abdomen, being little bit similar to labellum of an orchid, is flat and also has wavy denticles on the edge.
Waiting for prey, the bug stands motionless on orchid inflorescence and turned to pose imitating flower of the orchid. It has simply stretched first pair of wings in sides, and became almost indistinguishable among flowers around. To enhance the similarity to flowers, this bug uses not only visual signals. In human epoch bugs were known as creatures having strong and not always pleasant smell. Orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug in due course of evolution has transformed its smell to hunting weapon. It emits a specific smell, remotely similar to aroma of the orchid itself. Many insects with keen sense of smell easily distinguish this deceit and do not fall victims of this predator, but for some of them even such rough imitation seems irresistable. In secretions of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug there is an admixture of the attractants – substances likable to some insects. Therefore the predator does not feel any lack of prey.
The swallowtail had been seized by tenacious rear leg of bug. Overcoming the prey’s resistance, the bug was kept on flowerstalk of the orchid with the help of two front pairs of legs. When forces of the butterfly were exhausted, the bug has dragged it closer and has put the final sting of proboscis. Poison simultaneously serving as digestive juice has got into the body of the butterfly, and magnificent wings have stood for ever. Keeping its prey in rear leg, the bug started to suck it dry. The whole meal had taken some minutes only, and then the bug has simply let off the exhausted remains of the butterfly, and its dead body had falled down, whirling in air.
Orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug is not choosy in prey choice: it seizes and sucks out various insects flying to orchids. But it should be afraid of some visitors of flowers. The large solitary bee, sparkling emerald colouring with expressed metal shine, hovers above flowers of tiger-striped dendrobium. This insect is also a skillfull hunter, and it is desirable for smaller insects to be afraid of it. Orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug relies entirely on its similarity to orchid flower, therefore, when the bee casually touches this bug by legs, it stays motionless. The bug is not going to give out its presence, because this bee can kill it with one sting. In addition it is full, and in few next hours pollinator insects can not be afraid of its presence.
Remains of the insects sucked out by the bug occasionally fall to roots of plants. They stick in leaf axils of an orchid, between its stalks, in cracks of bark and in moss. Rotten off parts of stalks of moss and orchids, fallen leaves and bird dung also gather here. In tropical forest nothing vanishes to no purpose, and all wood dust will quickly turn to nutritious substratum for plants. Numerous epiphytic plants live from such substratum.
The important role in decomposition is played by fungi. Their role in life of plants is great, and for orchids presence of fungi is an obligatory condition of well-being. Orchids grow in symbiotic relations with fungi, and their smallest seeds sprout only after penetration of mycelium of certain fungal species inside them. But fungi help to grow not only to orchids.
Rainforest canopy is interwoven by lianas. They bound trees together so strongly, that the dying tree with the trunk rotten through may keep vertical position due to lianas for very long time. Animals living in forest canopy can move along the lianas from one tree to another and travel across the forest for many kilometers, not climbing down on the ground.
Lianes begin their life in underbrush as delicate plants requiring for a support. Some tens years ago one liana had began its life this way. Its weak stalk crept upwards, clinging by tendrils against the bark of one tree which has already occupied the place in forest canopy. The liane had twisted around of tree trunk, and year after year crept upwards to reach the sunlight. In first years of life it did not differ from numerous other plants having the same vital form. But, having reached the forest canopy, this plant has changed the pattern of growth: the top part of stalk has slowed down growth in length, but the lateral shoots clinging for the next trees have started to grow actively. Then liana began to change its shape gradually. Its trunk began growing thick, inevitably squeezing in “embraces” a tree which up to that time served as a support of this liana. Bloodless, but severe fight of two plants proceeded for some years. The crone of former liana has choked crone of supporting tree, stretching numerous branches with wide leaves. Wood-boring insects and fungi have started to destroy wood of the weakened tree actively, and in some years mouldering fragments of its trunk began to fall one by one on the ground, to the bottom of the plant which once used it as a support. The former liana, forced to itself perfidiously the way to forest canopy, has changed in great degree during these years. It has turned to true tree with thick trunk, having seized strongly in ground by its roots. The signs of the former way of life are kept in appearance of forest giant: its trunk is clearly twisted spirally, and vessel elements are also twisted. This tree is twisted arbovitis, a plant of grape family. Branches of arbovitis bound various trees growing in tens meters far from trunk of this plant, uniting the forest canopy around of this plant to a single whole.
The plant, which has seeked for success in struggle for existence, involves various parasites and symbiotes. Some of them almost do not harm to the plant and use it only as a support. And other species became the true parasites and can exist only due to the host plant. Their activity is shown sooner or later.
Bark of arbovitis usually is smooth and elastic, with shallow cracks. But in some places of trunk it forms swellings. They grow and mature within several weeks, and then burst and open. The opened swelling on plant trunk represents strange and unpleasant show. Its internal surface is entirely covered with flower buds pressed to each other; from them one by one fuzzy burgeons of meaty red color develop. When such burgeon reaches the size of child’s fist, it opens and begins emitting disgusting smell of decay around of itself. These are flowers of parasitic plant of Rafflesiaceae family – rotten-flowered parvirafflesia. The internal surface of petals has brown background color with meaty red irregular-shaped spots of various sizes. The number of petals on different flowers may vary – sometimes flowers have only four petals, and in very rare case three only. And near to them flowers having six petals may blossom. But they normally develop irrespectively of number of petals.
The body of this plant penetrates the top layer of tissues of arbovitis trunk and receives nutrition from it. While parvirafflesia is not blossoming, its presence in plant is almost imperceptible – the trunk of arbovitis differs in twisted shape in itself, and its deformation by the parasite is imperceptible.
Attracted by smell disgusting from the human point of view various scavenging insects fly there. But not all of them get into the flower of parvirafflesia. It is possible to creep inside it only through a small aperture in the centre, the entrance in which is closed by several elastic leathery blades. Only strong insects can unbend them, therefore flies have only to hover above the flower. But beetles of strong constitution easily move apart the valves blocking way inside and get into the internal chamber of flower. Many plants mimicking carion offer to insects only smell and color, but parvirafflesia at least partly justifies expectations of pollinators. Though it can not offer to scavenging beetles the high-grade replacement of decomposed meat of animals, beetles are quite content with nutritious tissues of flower. One line of stamens in flower of parvirafflesia is sterile, but tissues of these stamens have sweetish taste and are rich in protein and sugars. Biting them, beetles creep on the short stamens producing pollen, and spoil with it bottom parts of their bodies.
Flower of parvirafflesia withers quickly – it keeps on plant no longer than three days, and insects remain in trap not for long. When the flower withers, the valves covering an entrance inside it become flabby and hang. Now the exit is open for insects. Beetles fly out, and it is possible that some of them will fly to others flowers pf parvirafflesia – beetle can fly in forest for some kilometers in searches of source of attractive smell. The plant forms tens flowers, therefore its flowering may last for some months. On it insects fly, a part of which, possible, has visited the flowers of other parvirafflesia plants. It is a necessary condition for infructescence – this plant is not pollinated by its own pollen. Possible, for this reason the plant produces only few fruits. But its vital strategy is full of surprises which quite pay back such small amount of fruits.
Near to parvirafflesia flowers on bark of arbovitis appears something looking like flower buds of the same species. But at close examination it is visible, that it is absolutely different from what it seems at first sight. Surface of these structures is smooth, and on it edges of close petals are not visible. Having reached about the same size as parvirafflesia flowerbud, this object is opened. And it becomes clear that this one is not a flower at all, and its owner had never been among plants. These structures represent fruit bodies of flower-mimic star fungus. This fungus belongs to gasteromycetes group, which fruit bodies differ in brightness of colouring and fancifulness of shape. In human epoch some species of gasteromycete fungi had been nicknamed “flower mushrooms” because of the fanciful shape of fruit bodies which were vaguely similar to flowers.
Fruit bodies of flower-mimic star fungus are vaguely similar to parvirafflesia flowers. They are hollow from inside, and on the certain stage of ripeness are opened, being broken off to irregular-shaped lobes. Spore-bearing part of fruit body is spongy structure in middle of the fruit body, emitting putrefactive smell. On it not only flies land, but also beetles which also pollinate parvirafflesia. Flower-mimic star fungus is an exception among gasteromycetes in way of life. Usually gasteromycetes are saprophytic ones, but this fungus parasitizes on liana-tree arbovitis. A commonality of “vital interests” of fungus and parvirafflesia is not casual – it lays much deeper. Fruit bodies of fungus develop in immediate proximity from flowers of parvirafflesia, and the mycelium of star fungus has formed under arbovitis bark the indestructible union with parvirafflesia tissues. This formation could be named as mycorrhiza (that literally means “mushroom-root”), but the body of parvirafflesia has no not only roots, but also other organs differentiated in any degree. This fungus helps parvirafflesia to grow: it soaks up nutrients from arbovitis tissues and generously shares them with symbiote plant. Fruit bodies of star fungus imitate flowers of parvirafflesia and involve its pollinator insects not vainly. Insects fly out from the fungus, carrying away on their legs its spores, and it serves as a pledge of success in the future life of parvirafflesia.
Parvirafflesia fruit represents something like a berry with friable pulp and very thin skin. It quickly spreads to viscous mass with the tiny seeds inside. But also in tissues of parvirafflesia fruits the mycelium of star fungus is present. It develops in pulp of fruit rich in sugars and surrounds seeds while waiting for seed distributing animals. The soft mass, to which the ripen fruit of parvirafflesia turns, involves insects. When insects creep on it, not only parvirafflesia seeds paste to their legs, but also a part of fungus mycelium. And in new place of life the sprout of parvirafflesia at once gets the favourable ally – the fungus which supplies it with nutrients and considerably raises its chances of survival.
Among insects of tropical forest not only judges of the refined aromas live, but also admirers of disgusting putrefactive smell. As a rule, they are even more numerous. And the most important fact is that they are not too choosy and easily accept the simpliest imitation. Among lovers of carrion in tropical forest there are not only flies, but also beetles, and even butterflies. A competition between them is as intense, as between consumers of other kinds of food. The one, which will find suitable source of food faster, can continue its life cycle. Therefore any smell, which is even vaguely similar to smell of decay, involves insects. Even if the object from which this smell is emitted, reminds any dead animal in nothing, insects all the same may stay on it for any time. For plants imitating smell of carrion even those few minutes may be enough to leave a little amount of pollen on body of an insect.
Epiphytic “hanging gardens” in forks of branches of large trees very much frequently reach weight of several tens kilograms, and the tree as a whole may bear on its branches about ton of every possible kinds of epiphytes. Among epiphytic plants there are not only tiny mosses and miniature ferns. In some cases on tree branches rather large grassy plants grow.
Wind shakes very large leaves of one epiphyte – their diameter reaches half meter. Each leaf has umbrella-like shape and is made of the several lengthened lobes. In bright sunlight leaves have spotty “marble” pattern, and in shadow are entirely green. It is one species of epiphytic aroid plants – buckeye-leaved epipremnum. Being the descendant of liana-like plants, this species can pass the whole life cycle as epiphytic one. Stalk of this plant creeps along the trunk, and roots penetrate layer of moss and hang down from the branch like white “beard”. On them dew is condensed and rain water gathers, flowing down from the branch. Roots are covered with a layer of friable outer peel which works as a sponge, providing plant with water and the nutrients dissolved in it.
In tropics seasons are almost not expressed, therefore buckeye-leaved epipremnum blossoms all the year round. On the same plant it is possible to see developing flower stalks, completely formed inflorescences and ripening fruits. Flower stalks at this plant grow from leaf axils. For some time they grow directly upwards, but then the basis of flower stalk bends aside, and the inflorescence ready to pollination sticks out from the side under leaves. Buckeye-leaved epipremnum is pollinated by flies and small beetles – these insects are always numerous, and it is easy to involve them.
The plant uses for attraction of pollinators some features of their behaviour. Flies have propensity to perch on hanging down objects, and inflorescences of this epiphyte are arranged in order to help flies to find them. Spadix inflorescence is surrounded with the modified leaf – spathe, which edge is extended to long shoot. From outside spathe color is brown, and inside has white color and slight shine because of wax layer. “Tail” of spathe is twisted corkscrew-like and consequently on it brown and white strips alternate – colouring of both sides of spathe are visible. The length of such “tail” reaches one foot and more. Additional mean of attraction of insects lies in colouring of spathe. White internal surface is covered with the thin layer of wax which reflects the ultra-violet rays well seen by insects. Therefore insects notice from apart the unusual shape and colouring of spathe and gather on inflorescences of buckeye-leaved epipremnum. Flies perch on “tail” of spathe and rise on it up as if upstair. If moving along the “tail”, the insect gets into small opening on the top of the turned spathe – through it pollinators get access to plant’s inflorescence.
The putrefactive smell, which also involves insects, surrounds an inflorescence not constantly. The first wave of smell emitting is connected to flowering of pistillate flowers. They are receptive to pollen within several hours, and during all this time the inflorescence emits smell intensively. It is so intense, that at low wind it is felt in some tens meters far from plant. During the flowering of staminate flowers the smell is not so intensive, but is felt much longer – during several days. At this time pollen plentifully powders insects which have penetrated under spathe and creep on plant’s inflorescence.
Pollination of buckeye-leaved epipremnum proceeds successfully: numerous fruits indicate it – these are bright red berries ripening on aged flowerstalks. The success of this plant in attraction of pollinators has resulted in appearing of one unusual imitator of this species.
From thickets of moss right under roots of epipremnum small soft outgrowths of white color appear, looking at first sight similar to aerial roots of the plant. But they develop much faster, and within several days change in great degree. Tops of these formations are concave and extendede a little, and one side begins expanding intensively. At first it expands, and then extends to long “tail” of black color, resembling closely in shape the inflorescence of epipremnum closed by spathe. But this imitator even does not belong to number of plants. These are fruit bodies of ascomycete named smelly hanging tail fungus. The stipe of completely developed fruit body becomes dense and fibrous; therefore the elongated fruit body does not tear off due to its own weight. At first fruit bodies of smelly hanging tail fungus grow in horizontal direction, but later slightly hang down under the weight of “tail”.
Fruit bodies of smelly hanging tail fungus not too precisely simulate inflorescences of aroid plants, but considerably surpass them in intensity of smell. The acute smell emanating from spore-forming fruit body of this fungus involves insects. Flies easily jump at the bait made by this fungus – they perch on fruit bodies, and spores stick to their legs. It is not important for flies that imitation of “inflorescences” may appear separately from the plant itself. They are involved only by smell, and they accept even rather rough imitation. Scavenging beetles also fly to smell of smelly hanging tail fungus. But, as against flies, they not only creep on fruit bodies of this fungus: some beetles willingly eat this fungus. It does not harm to spores – they easily pass through intestines of an insect, not losing their viability. At night fruit bodies of this fungus do not cease emitting smell, and numerous moths fly to them.
Flies and other insects distribute spores of stinky hanging tail fungus. Moths are especially preferable as carriers of fungal spores – in day time they hide in various kinds of shelters and frequently choose for this purpose epiphyte thickets. Smelly hanging tail fungus is not a plant parasite – its mycelium develops on vegetative dust. Therefore its presence is even desirable for epiphytes – it converts substances from dying off organic to the form easily imbibing by plants.
Deciduous trees of temperate latitudes blossom in spring more often, when their leaves are not grown up yet. It allows them pollinating freely with the help of wind. In tropical rainforest seasonal changes in climate are almost not expressed in fact, and trees are evergreen. Therefore among them anemophilous species are not present. Trees of rainforest are pollinated by various animals – insects, birds and small mammals (rodents, marsupials and bats). Various trees involve pollinators to themselves in different ways. Some kinds entice any pollinators actively: they blossom very brightly, and it seems, that flowers cover their branches instead of leaves. Other kinds are adapted to pollination in more sophisticated ways – they have original flowers from which only highly specialized pollinators can drink nectar. Twisted arbovitis achieves success in struggle for existence not only due to development of unusual vital form. Its flowers also have the features providing success in pollination. Arbovitis may blossom not so brightly as orchids do – its small flowers gathered to long raceme-like inflorescences have only short petals of greenish color. Its smell does not imitate carrion, and flowers contain only a little amount of nectar. Its game with insects is more refined. Its inflorescences are difficult for not noticing – they are clearly visible against background of surrounding foliage due to unusual pollinators. It may be seemed that this tree has blossomed with flowers of tiger-striped dendrobium. But it is only an illusion: actually on inflorescences of arbovitis orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bugs creep. These insects are able to deceive other insects with the help of smell, but on inflorescences of arbovitis they are caught with the same dodge. The smell of flower is similar to sexual attractants of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug, and it forces the deceived insects to gather in tens on inflorescences of arbovitis. On plant’s inflorescences exclusively males of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug meet. They slowly creep on flowers, searching for females in vain. They simultaneously pollinate arbovitis, transporting its pollen on their legs. From time to time males fly off to feed on inflorescences of orchids, but then come back again, obeying to fraudful signals set by tree.
Tropical forest is a place where it is possible to find a plenty of various kinds of food. A greatest number of species of live organisms live near each other here, and the competition between them may be very hard. One of numerous ways to avoid a competition is strict specialization. A plenty of kinds of food accessible the year round has resulted in appearing at some inhabitants of tropical forest of deep specialization relatively to feeding. Red flowerpecker is one of such species. Flowerpeckers are descendants of estrildid finches turned to long-beaked pollinator birds with bright and appreciable colouring. Each species of flowerpeckers differs from the related ones – it has not only specific colouring, but also the special shape of beak due to which it can get nectar only from flowers of the necessary shape of calyx. Flowers evolve in parallel to their pollinators. In forest canopy numerous species of grassy plants live, being pollinated mainly or extremely by flowerpeckers. These plants have developed not only the special form of flowers, but also colouring which is perceived only by “friendly” species of pollinator bird.
Among plants of tropical forest representatives of Gesneriaceae family are very characteristic. Among them in Southeast Asia representatives of genus Aeschynanthus – epiphytes of tropical forest – are very common. Possible, in human epoch these plants escaped from extinction due to the special circumstance: they were widely cultivated as ornamental plants. Aeschynanthus of Neocene epoch differs from its Holocene relatives no more, than two species of these plants of Holocene epoch. These are long-stalked plants, whose shoots covered with fuzzy oval leaves hang down from branches of trees and shaken in air freely. Flowers of Aeschynanthus species have red color of various shades, very attractive to pollinator birds. In fauces of such flower there is a pattern of dark specks on light background, which serves as the indicator of nectar presence for pollinators.
Folwerpeckers like visiting Aeschynanthus flowers, and each species of these birds is specialized to the certain kinds of plants. At plants of various species the length of flower and its bend vary – they precisely correspond to the shape of bird’s beak. Flowerpeckers have very short paws, therefore the bird decided to regale on nectar, clings to the shoot or the plant leaf above the flower and hangs on it headfirst, sucking nectar from flower. Small flowerpeckers prefer drinking nectar from Aeschynanthus flowers, hovering before the plant in air, as if the hummingbird does. After visiting a flower on bird’s forehead a small lump of sticky pollen stays – when the bird thrusts its beak into Aeschynanthus flower, at first stigma touches its head, and then anthers connected by tips. Usually the bird visits some flowers before it will clean off pollen from head. Therefore there is always a probability of the pollination of the next flower.
Red flowerpecker is the largest species in the family – this species in approximately equal in size to starling. It is too heavy to hover above flowers and to suck nectar from them, being on wing. Therefore it simply perches on plant for feeding. Male of this species differs in colourful plumage – its head and body have bright red color with metal shine, and wings are purple. The featherless skin around of eyes is of white color – such colouring contrasts with the general color of plumage of bird, and renders an impression to contenders. Male of red flowerpecker owns the extensive territory – several hundreds square meters of forest canopy. The beak of this bird species is not too specialized for search of nectar in flowers of the specific species, but the large bird needs lots of food. Therefore male protects the territory from congeners. Though it has red color itself, it confidently distinguishes from apart red flowers of plants from plumage of the contender. As against other males of its species, red flowers of epiphytic plants use special attention of red flowerpecker male. Each day this bird inspects its territory, moving along almost same route – flowerpecker male visits all large thickets of epiphytic plants where there is an opportunity to feed. The bird is late for a long time near thickets of Aeschynanthus plants. Red flowers of these plants are gathered in small raceme in which 2-3 flowers blossom, and the others are at various stages of readiness for flowering. Flowerpecker perches on dense leaf of this plant, and then flutters closer to flowers. Flowers of Aeschynanthus do not smell – anyway, birds do not distinguish smells. But from within flowers are colored white almost entirely. On this background are clearly visible brown spots, more numerous in depth of flower. Having looked round, flowerpecker immerses its beak into one flower, and then flutters to the following one. Devastating flowers of Aeschynanthus, red bird flies up on stalks of plant higher and higher. Having licked off the nectar from the uppermost flower, flowerpecker male has flown on stalk of the liana growing beside. Having examined the territory, it has uttered long buzzing trill which is audible at the borders of its territory. Its neighbour was not slow with the reply. Though it was not visible, flowerpecker male has clearly heard its trill. Both birds knew, where the boundary of territories is located, and each male, having chosen an opportunity, tried to visit it, having declared its rights to it. Sometimes both males met in “neutral” territory and then they drove each other on branches, uttering agressive trills. Simply in this territory some bushes of Aeschynanthus grow, and both males would not refuse to possess such territory. But not any bird can hold under the control too extensive territory, therefore a bush of Aeschynanthus is still staying at the border of their possessions.
Flowers adapted to pollination by birds have some common features in spite of the fact that their owners can belong to different botanical families. Such flowers are tubular, and their perianth is usually of red or orange color, that involves nectarivorous birds. As a rule, birds have bad sense of smell, and they are guided mainly by colouring of flowers. Male of red flowerpecker acts so. It is not interested in pale flowers with a wide fauces blossoming on trunks of some trees – they are pollinated at night by bats, and only at this time such flowers begin smelling sweet and producing nectar plentifully. It also does not pay attention to small lilacky and yellow flowers emitting pleasant aroma – they are adapted to entomophily. And red tubular flowers draw attention of this bird very much though they do not smell. Red color is well appreciable on the background of surrounding greens of various shades, and male of red flowerpecker hastens to flowers which it notices on the long shoots hanging down from a tree trunk.
Flowerpecker perches on stalk of blossoming plant and moves down along it to flowers. Its paws are short, and flowerpecker is compelled to move on a plant, making short steps. Having reached up to the nearest flower, the bird thrusts its beak in it in hope to have a meal. But flowerpecker has made it vainly – it does not feel the presence of nectar in this flower. The bird flutters up and perches near another flower. Here it is empty too. Some more flowers also appear bright, but completely lack of nectar. But on flowerpecker’s head in addition to pollen of Aeschynanthus there was pollen of the imitator plant. Possible, the bird will not check contents of any more flowers of this plant and will fly off. But memory at birds is not too good, and the viability of pollen quite will be quite enough to wait while flowerpecker will make one more mistake of the same kind.
On its way flowerpecker had met not Aeschynanthus, diligently and generously supplying these birds with food, but its similarity – dummy aeschinomima. This epiphytic plant of acanth family simulates Aeschynanthus so successfully, that birds regularly visit its flowers in searches of, alas, nonexistent nectar. At close examination it is rather easy to distinguish it from Aeschynanthus by shape of its leaves, but nectarivorous birds are interested only in flowers.
Flowers of aeschinomima did not give the flowerpecker any drop of nectar, and have left on bird’s crown its plentiful pollen. But the surprises of this plant are not limited in it. Deceived flowerpecker fluttered off from the plant and had casually touched with tip of its wing a ripen fruit – long dry capsule. Halves of it opened explosively with loud crash, and seeds of aeschinomima had been scattered in various sides. Some of them have got on the next trees – the plant scatters seeds rather far. But some seeds have clung with the help of setae to bird’s plumage. Flowerpecker had not noticed them yet, but later it will clean them off from feathers somewhere in another place. Maybe, seeds will get in the place good for germination, and will form in two-three years a huge bush with several tens shoots. On it the same red deceptive flowers will blossom, enticing to itself of trustful birds, but giving no reward for pollination.
Aeschinomima, deceiving its pollinators, is not any unusual plant. In due course of evolution at various species of plants from different botanical families the cunnings have appeared, allowing involving and deceiving of pollinators. Some of them treat insects with intoxicating nectar; others simulate insect females, involving to them males ready to pairing. But some plants deceive insects and other animals with more prosaic purpose, which, however, has nothing common with flower pollination.
Insects are involved very much with brightly colored corollas of flowers. Though their sight does not allow them to perceive all colors, accessible to human sight, to the full, the world shines with bright colors for insects. And they perceive numerous color signals coming from plants. Insects very vividly react to contrasts in coloring of flower corollas, especially if they are supplemented with smell. Therefore wasps and large butterflies willingly gather to large flowers little bit similar to flowers of plants of Gesneriaceae family. Their colouring is velvety-red, and on this background the set of silvery spots is strewn. Insects do not see red color, but silvery spots, reflecting ultra-violet light, involve them very much. All the more, it is supplemented with the pleasant sweetish smell emitting from within of flower. Butterflies try to reach nectar, but their proboscii are too short, and large wings prevent to penetrate inside the flower. Waps have denser constitution, and one of them lands on petal and then safely moves inside, to a source of smell.
Wasp had rather easily overcome the first part of the way inside the flower. It had crept on petals, but, when it has gone down below, its legs have lost a support and have slid off. Wasp has touched some trichomes closing its way, then has slipped off downwards over long strong bristles and has got in vertical corridor. Its walls were also slippery and smooth. At the end of way wasp has fallen down to viscous liquid at the bottom of that it thought to be a flower at first. But it was simple, but effective trap. Floundering in liquid, wasp has hardly crept out on the wall. It was rather large insect, therefore it managed to creep upwards, setting its legs against opposite walls… but there was no exit any more. When the wasp had slid off downwards, elastic trichomes have risen after it and have blocked an exit. After that between them even the mosquito could hardly squeeze. Wasp continued its vain attempts to get outside, but every time it slid downwards and fell in liquid. After one hour of ineffectual attempts to get outside it was lost, and its body began gradual dissolving in a liquid.
Not for all plants pollinators are necessary, and some of them involve insects with rather banal purpose – they are predators. One of “green predators” is an epiphytic plant named Gesneria-leaved flowerleaf. Its leaves skillfully imitate flowers of other plants, and the plant prepares for insects much more dangerous “entertainment”, than its neighbours do. Being a predator is rather favourable strategy for epiphyte: at surplus of sunlight habitats of epiphytic plants are poor in mineral substances, and the organic substances involve too many consumers. Therefore flowerleaf, being a descendant of pitcher plant (Nepenthes) – another predatory plant – has improved for its benefit hunting apparatus inherited from its ancestor. Its leaves imitating flowers are simply irresistable for insects.
Sometimes red flowerpeckers visit leaves of flowerleaf and even drink the digestive liquid secreted by plant. They are also involved by bright edging of the leaf, which magnificence of colouring bird’s eyes perceive to the full. Red flowerpeckers are large enough not to fall a victim of this plant, therefore male of this species risks with absolutely nothing when jumping on large specimen of this plant. Above the head of red flowerpecker male its relatives – tiny acrobatic flowerpeckers – flit. Their blue wings and metallic-grey bodies sharply contrast with colouring of red flowerpecker. These tiny birds have beaks of absolutely another shape – long and crescently bent. They do not compete with red flowerpecker; therefore male of this species is indifferent to their presence.
Acrobatic flowerpeckers should be very cautious near to large bushes of Gesneria-leaved flowerleaf. Smaller animals, as a rule, have more enemies, and danger may come from the most different objects. It is dangerous to these small birds to come nearer to artful leaves of flowerleaf: at the bottom of one leaf semidigested remains of the acrobatic flowerpecker lay. The bird had carelessly glanced inside of leaf so similar to flower, had slid downwards and had fall into the trap. This plant can also catch other small vertebrate animals: in its leaves smaller arboreal frogs and lizards perish frequently.
But any adaptation may be used for benefit to other species if this one owns a secret of use of it. And flowerleaf with its irresistable insidiousness became quite safe dwelling for one small species of animals. In one leaf there is no digestive liquid. When the sun shines the “disarmed” leaf of this plant, it becomes appreciable how inside it rather large beetle creeps. It is a female of hermit beetle, a predatory insect of carabid beetles family, which has managed to turn cunning of the plant into its own benefit. Some weeks ago it has undergone the metamorphosis and has found this plant by smell. Having chosen the leaf suitable by the degree of development, the insect had done only a little job – the beetle female had bite through the bottom part of trap leaf an aperture, trying not to damage its ribs, and all digestive juice has flowed out. From time to time under the trap leaf chosen by the insect some drops of liquid appear – the plant continues producing of digestive juice, but it does not accumulate inside the leaf. Sometimes the carabid even drinks this juice. When the deceived insects crawl inside the trap leaf, they find a fast death in mandibles of the beetle. Flowerleaf plant receives from such tenant only a small amount of mineral substances with beetle’s feces and the rests of its prey. But the hermit beetle receives abundance of prey which finds the hunter itself.
Only beetle females lead such solitary way of life. And it has had an effect on their shape – females and males of hermit beetle strictly differ in appearance. Elytra of female are short, and abdomen is rather large. Male, on the contrary, has the shape typical for carabid beetles and leads more active way of life. It stays in trapping leaf of flowerleaf not for long – only some days after metamorphosis it is feeding intensively. Got stronger insect, at which gonads are well-developed, simply bites through the leaf, gets out of it and begins search for females. Male creeps in forest canopy and finds by smell a female ready to breeding. Female hidden in leaf of flowerleaf does not leave it even for pairing. It simply bites one more aperture in plant leaf and exposes from it the tip of its abdomen. Special gland produces smell involving male, and such small aperture is quite enough for pairing.
At other animals the rituals preceding to breeding are much more complex. Day of red flowerpecker male is occupied not only with search of food, but also with family cares. To involve female to the territory, male utters special courtship calls. These ones differ from usual voice of these birds – these are ringing and melodious calls. Usually male calls the female during the flight along the borders of the territory. It alternates courtship calls and the trills warning contenders about readiness of protecting the territory.
Having satisfied its famine, male returns to the unfinished nest which is hidden from predators under flaking away bark of large tree. Nest of red flowerpecker is woven as a deep bowl of vegetative fibres. Waiting for female, male builds the nest – it is an important part of ritual of breeding pair formation at this species. If the nest would not be pleasant for female, it would simply leave male’s territory. Male also should watch for contenders: they can penetrate to its territory secretly and intentionally destroy a part of the nest. It frequently happens at young males nesting for the first time. More skilled males, when preparing to nesting, do not fly off far from nest and return to it at first signs of intrusion of neighbours to the territory. If everything is safe and neighbours do not risk appearing at the territories occupied by male, it has quite good chances for pair forming.
If самка does not fly to male’s advertisement call, it can begin searching for her itself. If it will find out in its possession of another male, it will necessarily rush on stranger, even if that one appears larger and stronger. As a rule, the stranger initially feels like uncomfortably, appearing at the territory occupied by another male. Only the occurrence of the lawful owner of territory frequently puts it to flight. But male is more loyal to females flying to its territory. During one nesting season male usually keeps bonds with one female only, which makes the nest in his territory. But it does not miss an opportunity to couple with another female, not burdening him with cares of her posterity. Flitting among lianas and epiphytes, red flowerpecker male suddenly notices the female perching quietly on lustrous leathery leaves of an orchid sticking out among a moss. Having perched on thin stalk of liana, flowerpecker male begins courtship display – it opens wings and fluffs bright feathers on back. This performance is accompanied by melodious murmuring trill which is intended to convince female of absence of aggression at this male. Female does not fly out, and male accepts it as a sign of favour from its side. He continues displaying magnificent plumage and uttering murmuring sounds, gradually coming nearer to the object of the interest. But the female, strangely enough, does not pay attention to him and continues perching among leaves as motionlessly as before. Being in excitation, male flutters from liane and flies up closer to the female. Absence of fear at the object of its steadfast attention gives the male even bigger confidence, and he ventures for pairing. Flowerpecker male flies up above the female, quickly falls on its back, seizes its beak by a beak… and understands that it is deceived.
The thing it has mistaken for the female of its species, appeared not a bird at all, but very large single flower of an orchid of a special kind – flowerpecker’s bulbophyllum. This epiphytic plant has rather originally solved a problem of pollination, deceiving males of red flowerpecker. This orchid has no smell – it has no need to involve insects. But soft color of flower sepals with a mesh pattern precisely simulates colouring of plumage on wings of flowerpecker female. Top sepal of flower of this orchid slightly resembles the head of bird extended forward and upwards – its tip is pointed, and on edges there are two black spots outlined by thin white circles. Such imitation may seem rough, but the flowerpecker male impelled by breeding instinct, does not estimate, in what degree the object seen by him is similar to the female of its own kind. The general color of an object and presence of eyes (or spots simulating them) are important for it – these are stimuli to display of sexual behaviour.
Male is deceived by humble plant, and, as if a reminder on this malicious joke, on its stomach the lump of pollen pasted to feathers remains. Such mistake does not stop flowerpecker male in its search for females. It flies off from an artful plant, but only in order to get in the same trap on the next tree some minutes later. Before it will find the true female, it can easily be deceived for some times with orchid flowers. But its activity guarantees pollination of an orchid. Once, for millions years before Neocene epoch, people attributed to orchids both magic properties and predatory bents. But flowerpecker’s bulbophyllum has managed to surpass human imagination and to develop the smart way of a deceit guaranteeing the successful appearing of the next generation of these plants.
Life in tropical forest is a strict competition. It is possible to avoid it in various ways, including ones which in human society had been regarded as a deceit. But the human moral which has missed after people is alien to nature. While the way of survival provides prosperity of the species using it, it will be used by nature in the most unexpected variants.
arbovitis (Arbovitis tortus)
Order: Rhamnales (Rhamnales)
Family: Grape (Vitaceae)
Habitat: rainforests of Southeast Asia.
Conditions in tropical forest differ at various levels of it. Forest canopy is sunlit to the full, but leaves of numerous trees and epiphytes intercept sunlight completely. Therefore in the underbrush light exposure is very insignificant in comparison with forest canopy. But here the life of almost all woody plants of rainforest begins, with few exceptions like strangler figs. Lack of light results in suppressing of growth of sprouts of trees for many years, and it begins only then when the old tree falls and the sunlight reaches the underbrush. Within several years on the sunlit place young trees begin growing quickly, trying to outgrow and to choke their competitors. But some plants of rainforest make the way to the forest canopy by more refined way. One example of “bypass” tactics is shown by tree named twisted arbovitis. It is an original analogue of strangler figs of Holocene epoch, which passes from one vital form to another in due course of development.
Twisted arbovitis begins its growth in rainforest underbrush as a usual liana, like many representatives of its family. It rises upwards, twisting its stalk around the tree trunk and clinging against prominences of tree bark with well advanced lignifying tendrils. Within first five years of life this plant reaches the forest canopy at the height of about 30 meters.
When the top of arbovitis reaches forest canopy, the plant appears in quite different conditions – light exposure becomes much better. It serves as a signal for change of growth pattern. The trunk stops growing in length and begins branching in its top part actively, occupying a place in forest canopy. Arbovitis gradually begins the killing of tree along which it has risen in forest canopy. The crone of arbovitis begins choking and suppressing a crone of the support tree and the trees next to it. The trunk also attacks the support tree: it grows thicker and literally strangles a plant on which it climbed up some years ago. This way arbovitis gradually replaces the tree on which it climbed up to forest canopy. If the support tree perishes too early, before the time when the trunk of arbovitis reaches the necessary thickness, this species can grow further, having hooked by branches for the next trees. The trunk of arbovitis grows thick gradually and at the age of fifteen years reaches the thickness of 4-5 meters. Wood of this plant is rather friable and soft. Signs of the previous vital form, from which the life cycle of arbovitis begins, are appreciable at an adult plant at any age – during all its life the trunk keeps crimpiness expressed especially clearly in an arrangement of vessel elements. The trunk of plant, having no additional support, may easily break from wind. Therefore young shoots of arbovitis keep an ability to cling and to twist around the support. Arbovitis holds against the nearby trees by branches, therefore even strong hurricane not always can fall it down. Life expectancy of this tree reaches 70-90 years.
At the age of 6-8 years, actually remaining a liana yet, arbovitis begins blossoming. Its flowers are very small and have greenish-white color. They are poorly seen from apart, but all the same use the attention on the part of insects. Flowers of arbovitis emit a smell containing substances similar to sexual attractants of orchid predatory leaf-legged bug, one species of local bugs. Numerous males of orchid predatory leaf-legged bug gather on inflorescences of arbovitis and pollinate them. Flowering of arbovitis takes place all the year round. Fruits of this plant represent small sweet berries with black peel covered with thin film of wax. Noticing the reflection of ultra-violet sun rays from wax layer, birds easily find these fruits. Besides ripe fruits of arbovitis are rich in sugar, and even begin fermentation right on tree, and it involves various insects to them; the fallen overripe fruits represent a favourite delicacy for mammals and birds living in underbrush.
parvirafflesia (Parvirafflesia saproflora)
Order: Rafflesiales (Rafflesiales)
Family: Rafflesiaceae (Rafflesiaceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, Jakarta Coast. The parasite of plants of grape family, more often of woody plant twisted arbovitis.
The family includes the plants deeply specialized to parasitic way of life. All its representatives lack chlorophyll in tissues, and the plant body has lost precise differentiation of organs and represents an amorphous mass of tissue strands of which flowers form periodically. Various plants of rafflesia family are specialized to the life on strictly limited set of species of host plants. Representatives of central genus Rafflesia parasitized on various species of family Vitaceae, and their descendants in Neocene epoch have not lost this connection with host plants.
At the end of Holocene epoch large forms of Rafflesiaceae have died out, but smaller representatives have survived, and from them the parasitic plants of Neocene epoch descend, grouped in some genera. Rotten-flowered parvirafflesia represents a plant with small flowers about 10 cm in diameter. It clearly differs from a plant of close genus Microrafflesia by features of structure of flower. The entrance to the flower of parvirafflesia represents not an aperture with smooth edges surrounded by trichomes, but is closed by several blades slightly bent inside and acting like valves. In addition flowers of parvirafflesia have the changeable number of petals varying from 4 up to 6-7 ones. Flower buds of parvirafflesia are covered with fuzz from outside; an internal surface of petals is smooth and leathery.
Developing flower buds within one month gradually penetrate the bark of the host tree and open. They develop in numerous congestions in break of bark of host plant. Blossoming of each separate flower proceeds only 2-3 days, but each plant gives many flowers, and flowering lasts for 3 weeks and more. Parvirafflesia belongs to the kinds of plants pollinated by beetles. Only they are able to unbend the valves closing an entrance to the flower. Beetles are not selective relatively to smell, but obviously prefer putrefactive aromas. Therefore the flower of parvirafflesia has a characteristic unpleasant smell, and in its colouring red and dark brown shades combine. In this respect the plant imitates the rotting carrion. An additional stimulus for visiting of flowers by beetles is the edible tissue of sterile edge stamens rich in proteins and sugar.
The body of parvirafflesia represents flat thin strands sprouting under bark of the host plant and stretching to some meters. From outside the infection of host plant with this parasite is imperceptible (at Microrafflesia on stalk of host plant large warts are formed). The structure of the body of this plant is original: it represents a mix of tissues of parasite plant and mycelium of flower-mimic star fungus – a species of fungus entered the symbiotic relations with this plant. In fact, the plant forms mycorrhiza with fungi, and due to it its seeds sprout more successfully, and the sprout develops more intensively. The fungus soaks up nutrients from tissues of the host plant, and the part of them is used by parvirafflesia.
Fruit of this plant is berry-like with very thin skin. At the ripening it runs to slimy odorous mass attracting insects. Distributors of seeds of this plant are flies and small beetles. They carry away the seeds covered with pulp of fruit on their legs. Seeds of parvirafflesia are tiny and quickly lose the ability to sprout. But they have one helper: the symbiotic fungus which begins development in tissues of ripen fruit from the spore brought with the pollen helps them to sprout. In ripen fruit of parvirafflesia each seed is surrounded by mycelium of the fungus which provides a sprout with nutrients in the first days of its life.
flowerleaf (Flosculophyllum gesnerioides)
Order: Nepenthales (Nepenthales)
Family: Nepenthaceae (Nepenthaceae)
Habitat: Southern China, South-Eastern Asia, tropical rainforests, rocks.
In Holocene epoch people knew some species of plants led a predatory way of life, catching insects and small vertebrates, and satisfying in such way need for mineral and organic substances.
In congelation epoch at the boundary of Holocene and Neocene the zone of tropical forests had narrowed, and as a consequence of it in tropic latitudes new inhabitants had appeared – migrants from northern and southern areas. Because of it the competition among tropical animals and plants had strongly increased, and it had stimulated the evolution. Animals change faster then plants, but also among plants especially interesting species had appeared.
Flowerleaf is the epiphytic plant, the descendant of one of species of insectivorous plants of genus Nepenthes. It is a big short-stemed grass, whose crown sometimes reaches the diameter of one meter. Usually the flowerleaf grows at the big height in rainforest canopy, but it oftenly settles on rocks.
Stalk of this plant is short and thick, tenacious roots penetrate deeply into cracks of stones or into bark of tree on which this plant lives. The flowerleaf had inherited features of leaf structure from its ancestor: the petiole of leaf is expanded, and it has undertaken the function of photosynthesis. A leaf plate, as at an ancestor, is modified to trapping organ. Trapping leaf of the flowerleaf is similar to leaf of Nepenthes, but differs in greater fancifulness of structure and action. It settles on elastic petiole bent upwards at the right angle right after the ending of photosynthesizing part of petiole.
At the bottom of pitcher leaves the digestive liquid accumulates. But the specialization of flowerleaves has gone much further, than at Nepenthes: turned outside edge of pitcher trapping leaf very precisely simulates the corolla of flower of some plants. “Operculum” characteristic for Nepenthes has especially bright pattern.
Smelling glands and honeycups developed on the internal side of trap leaves help to involve catch. The basic catch of flowerleaf includes rather large insects (beetles, wasps, bees) which get into flowers in searches of forage. Depending on the structure of the edge of catching leaf and smell some species of flowerleaves, specializing on different kinds of catch, differ.
The mechanism of trap differs in complexity. The special bristles in fauces serve as “sensor controls”. And in a mouth of trap leaf there is a set of other bristles – they are elastic and have the tissue able to be swell with water. While catch is lacking, their sharp tips are directed inside of trap leaf. When the insect, having got in trap leaf, touches hairs in depth of fauces, the trap works. Behind of insect elastic bristles rise, blocking an entrance in trap leaf and blocking way to deviation. When the insect tosses in trap, it loses forces faster. Sooner or later the victim of plant falls in liquid at the bottom of trap leaf and is digested.
At the Gesneria-looking flowerleaf the top of leaves has bright red color with silvery specks reflecting ultra-violet light. It resembles tubular flowers of plants of Gesneriaceae family, and the specific epithet is because of it.
Birds, for example, tropical flowerpeckers, would like to diversify a diet with liquid which is gathered in traps of flowerleaves, and visit them as frequently, as true flowers of other plants.
Own flowers of flowerleaf are tiny and pinkish, gathered to ear-like inflorescence. They have the unpleasant putrefactive smell contrasting with flower smell from leaves. It permits a plant to not catch its own pollinators – tiny fruit flies. Seeds are very small, carried by wind.
Close species live in rainforests:
“Rotten” flowerleaf (Flosculophyllum saprus) grows at the Sunda Land. The top of leaves is rosy brown in the centre, and brownish-black on edges. This species has a putrefactive smell of trap leaves, and eats mainly beetles and large flies involved by such smells. Flowers are white, open at night and have delicate aroma. They are pollinated by small moths.
Narrow-leaved flowerleaf (Flosculophyllum angustatus) lives in rainforests of Jakarta Coast. Trap leaves are very much extended (the length approximately 5 – 6 times exceeds its diameter), with a top separated to narrow “petals”. Aroma is similar to smell of orchids. The basic catch includes bees and wasps. Some butterflies of the hawkmoths family having especially long proboscises, are adapted to suck digestive liquid from leaves of this plant.
aeschynomima (Aeschynomima praeconia)
Order: Scrophulariales (Scrophulariales)
Family: Acanthaceae (Acanthaceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, Jakarta Coast, Sunda Land; rainforest canopy.
The significant number of species of grassy plants of rainforest has the vital form of epiphyte. It is favourable to survival, because in underbrush normal development of grassy plant is in fact impossible because of lack of light. But as the result the competition among epiphytes became rather significant. Epiphytic plants develop the various strategies of life, helping them to lower competition and to increase their own chances of survival.
Dummy aeschynomima plant has developed the special tactics of survival. In fact, it is an original “weed” among the epiphytes – the plant quickly expands and occupies new places for life. Aeschynomima represents a grassy plant with long hanging stalks. In stalks nodes the numerous air roots develop, assisting to catch moisture. If the stalk of aeschynomima lays on bark of support tree, it quickly attaches to it by numerous additional roots, and begins branching, giving new shoots. The stalk of aeschynomima is fragile, but this circumstance brings the great benefit to this plant: branch casually broken by any animal or wind easily takes roots in suitable conditions. Leaves of aeschynomima are small and covered with numerous hair, grow in stalk nodes in pairs without leafstalks. Leaf has oval shape and edges lined with small denticles.
In leaf axils of aeschynomima large single flowers develop. Each flower actually represents the reduced inflorescence – in the basis of flower cups rudimentary flower buds are seen. Rather frequently two-floral inflorescences develop. Flower cup is hidden between two large bracts of brown color with plentiful grayish fuzz.
Flowers of aeschynomima are zygomorphic – two top petals grow together, forming an upper lip, and the large lower petal is opposed them. Two more petals represent small lobes adhered to the bottom petal from sides. This flower is obviously adapted to pollination by birds – its perianth has red color with wide yellow stripes in fauces. But, as against to flowers of other plants pollinated by birds, flowers of aeschynomima lack nectar. Aeschynomima is pollinated exclusively due to skillfully imitation of nectar-producing species of Aeschynanthus plants (hence the name) growing near it and due to it forces pollinators to visit its flowers also. The main pollinators of this plant are tropical flowerpecker birds. Any insect quickly enough could distinguish a deceit, being guided by the absence of smell of nectar in flowers, but birds, involved with bright colouring of corolla, are mistaken frequently, and pollinate aeschynomima in common with Aeschynanthus flowers.
Aeschynomima differs from its model not only in absence of nectar. This plant is settled by completely different way. Tiny seeds of Aeschynanthus have fuzz and are easily distributed by wind. Aeschynomima has a different vital strategy. Its seeds are small, but covered with thin hook-like fibers. Fruit of aeschynomima is a dehiscent capsule characteristic for representatives of family. When the small animal touches ripen fruit of this plant, it dehisces explosively to two separate loculi. They twist and scatter seeds. Due to fibers seeds may attach to bodies of birds and forest mammals. With the help of animals they may be moved to great distances in forest canopy. But even if seeds did not attach to any animal, they all the same have a good opportunity to settle – the capsule of aeschynomima opens so explosively that seeds scatter in sides to the distance of some meters. In this case they have probability of hit the place suitable to life – for example, the moss cushions. Seeds sprout quickly, and already at the age of one year the plant blossoms plentifully.
dendrobium (Dendrobium tigrinopetalum)
Order: Orchidales (Orchidales)
Family: Orchids (Orchidaceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, rainforests.
Orchids are one of the most successful families of flowering plants. This is a richest in species variety family of world flora. These plants are obliged to the success to specialization to pollination which increases the isolation between representatives of different species. Orchids grow in various habitats – from wetlands up to mountain ridges and temperate latitudes. But the greatest species variety of orchids is observed in tropics. Among orchids both ground plants and epiphytes are found.
In rainforests of Southeast Asia numerous species of epiphytic orchids grow. Among them representatives of very large genus Dendrobium are very characteristic (in human epoch this genus included more than one thousand species). Among them there are both tiny and very large forms.
Neocene species of this genus, tiger-striped dendrobium, belongs to large forms of this genus. It forms very big bushes weighing up to 10 kg and reaching the diameter of half meter. This plant has segmented nodulose stalks about 20 cm long; oval dark green leaves are kept only in their top part. The plant forms a plenty of the air roots covered with spongy tissue adapted to the moisture absorption. New shoots grow from the basis of old ones.
This plant blossoms very beautifully during the most part of year. Flowers about 4 cm in diameter are gathered to large raceme reaching the length of about 60 cm. In inflorescence it is totaled over two tens flowers blossoming one after another.
The flower of tiger-striped dendrobium has the colouring which has determined the name of this species. Sepals and petals (except for a labellum) are coloured bright yellow with silky shine. On all petals there are wide cross stripes of orange color, and atop of them the thin cross strokes of brown color forming characteristic “tiger” pattern stretch. Labellum strongly differs in colouring from other parts of flower. It is purple-red with white edge, concave in the middle part and expanded on edge. Edges of labellum are turned and form some kind of a tube. The insect searching for nectar should get into the flower through the turned labellum. Pollinator gets out of a flower only through an aperture in the basis of labellum, crawling near the stamens and having received a portion of sticky pollen.
Tiger-striped dendrobium is pollinated by small wasps and solitary bees, and also by small moths. For the attraction of pollinators the plant emits very pleasant smell.
The young plant begins blossoming for the first time at the fourth-fifth year of life.
twin orchid (Phytodoppelganger synchronicus)
Order: Orchidales (Orchidales)
Family: Orchids (Orchidaceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, rainforests.
In human epoch among orchids rather large number of saprophytic forms had been known. Getting nutrients with the help of symbiotic fungi, they have lost their chlorophyll. In Neocene among orchids specialized saprophytic species have remained, but also the forms leading the true parasitic habit of life have appeared. The example of them is urushiphila living at Japan archipelago, which is a parasite of poisonous “death tree”. The passing to parasitic habit of life had been carried out by various species of orchids independently from each other. Accordingly, they have different species of host plants. Another orchid, the highly specialized parasite of tiger-striped dendrobium, lives in Southeast Asia. This species is so similar to the host plant that has received the name deceitful twin orchid. Possibly, this plant has passed from nutrition via mycelium as saprophyte (this phenomenon is not rare among Holocene and Neocene orchids) to direct parasitism at another flowering plant.
Deceitful twin orchid sprouts in tissues of the host orchid – tiger-striped dendrobium. Due to producing phytohormones it changes the pattern of host’s growth. Stalks of the host plant under the influence of the parasite developing in them grow thick and on them warts of parasite’s tissue grow. Leaves of the shoot infected by the parasite become wider and thicker, and the host plant itself has more intense growth. In such way deceitful twin orchid cares of its own existence, supporting the host plant in good condition. But this influence has the reverse: in this case the duration of life of host plant is some years shorter compared to healthy plant of the same species.
Deceitful twin orchid has completely lost its own chlorophyll, and its organs have undergone a deep degeneration. Outside of the flowering period deceitful twin orchid is “hidden” inside the body of the host orchid, and its presence can be detected only due to modification of stalks of tiger-striped dendrobium. At flowering in the basis of shoots of the host plant tuber-like outgrowths appear, and on their surface flower buds develop. From them flower stalks grow, surrounded in the bottom part with fleshy pinkish scales representing the reduced leaves lack of chlorophyll.
Deceitful twin orchid imitates dexterously flowers of the host, using the same pollinators as tiger-striped dendrobium. Its flowers differ from flowers of the host plant in narrower petals and short labellum. Their pattern has more brown cross strokes, and orange spots are located only at edges of petals. Also the flower of deceitful twin orchid differs by smell – it is more attractive to beetles and flies because of slight putrefactive shade.
Dependence of deceitful twin orchid from the host plant is expressed in one feature of its life cycle. The parasitic orchid begins blossoming only at the stimulation by phytohormones of the host plant. The sense of this feature is, that in this case both species blossom, are pollinated and fructify synchronously. It raises probability of getting of seeds of parasitic species on young plant of the host species though it does not mean the ability of sprout of the parasite to find the host plant.
The sprout of deceitful twin orchids develops normally only at the presence of sprout or the adult host plant. At its absence the sprout of deceitful twin orchid normally passes only the initial stages of development when its nutrition is provided by the mycelium penetrated into it at the early stage. After that it perishes. If the sprout feels the chemical substances emitting by the host plant, its development goes on. It actively uses mycelium for feeding, partly absorbs it and increases vegetative mass. At this time it bends and “creeps” aside the host plant. Having reached the surface of host plant, the sprout of deceitful twin orchid penetrates into it and reaches the vessels of stalk. Because of its hormonal influence the stalk of the host plant begins deforming. If the parasitic orchid has got into the thicket of the healthy host plant, it gradually infects it entirely for some years. In due course of growth old healthy stalks of the host plant die off and are replaced by the stalks changed by presence of the parasite. At the infection at the sprout stage thicket of the host plant already on the first shoots bear traces of the infection with the parasite.
Deceitful twin orchid begins blossoming simultaneously with the host plant. If it has infected a mature plant, its flowering may begin for the third year after the seed germination.
bulbophyllum (Bulbophyllum anthopicii)
Order: Orchidales (Orchidales)
Family: Orchids (Orchidaceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, rainforests.
Orchid family is young from evolutional point of view – its occurrence is traced back to the middle of Tertiary, when the majority of families and genera of the plants which have lived subsequently to the human epoch has already appeared. Nevertheless, orchids are champions among plants in species variety. The effective life strategy chosen by them has determined the success of orchids in struggle for existence – it is the attraction of pollinators in diverse ways and the strict specialization to the specific pollinator. In Neocene orchids have not changed their direction of evolution, and among them thee surprising adaptations to pollination exist.
In Neocene rainforests of Southeast Asia numerous species of epiphytic orchids of the large genus Bulbophyllum known even from human epoch live. At many species of this genus flowers are remarkable in their freakish shape, but have soft colouring and unpleasant smell – they are pollinated by beetles and flies. But one of Neocene bulbophyllum species began to use completely different pollinator, and it makes it in rather freakish way. It is pollinated by local flowerpecker birds, and for this reason it has received the name flowerpecker’s bulbophyllum.
The not blossoming plant of this kind looks imperceptibly. It lives on branches of trees in forest canopy, preferring to settle in thickets of moss. It has short creeping stalk with thick aerial roots covered with a layer of spongy tissue. Roots hang down, forming rich white “beard”. Above the surface of moss cushion wide rounded leaves rise.
Flowers of flowerpecker’s bulbophyllum are single and rather large - the length of flower makes about 10 cm. They grow on short flower stalks and simply lay among foliage of the plant. The tissue of petals and sepals of this plant is dense and leathery – it is directly connected to its way of pollination.
The flower of this orchid very precisely mimics the female of red flowerpecker – one of local nectarivorous birds. Two large sepals surrounding the labellum are curled upwards and close it like a roof. They imitate the folded wings of the bird. Their brownish-red colouring with darker mesh pattern is similar to color of plumage on wings of female of red flowerpecker. Two petals are very short and have the same colouring, as sepals. Top sepal rather precisely mimics the head of bird. It is expanded in the middle and peaked on the tip. At the edges of the sepal there are two large spots looking similar to eyes of flowerpecker female. The labellum of flower is covered with long outgrowths similar to feathers of bird tail along the edge.
When the flower of flowerpecker’s bulbophyllum lays among foliage, it is very similar to perched female of this bird. The illusion is supplemented by wind forcing the flower to move. Male of red flowerpecker searching for females on its territory frequently tries to couple with flowers. Thus it moves apart by legs the sepals imitating wings of this bird, and its breast touches the stigma of the flower. After visiting a flower of this plant on the belly of red flowerpecker male pollinia are pasted.
This orchid develops very slowly: the first flower appears at this plant in the age of about 8 years.
epipremnum (Epipremnum aesculifolius)
Order: Arales (Arales)
Family: Arums (Araceae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, rainforests.
Sometimes in due course of onthogenesis the plant can change the vital form. So, the strangler fig turns from epiphyte to tree, and Neocene twisted arbovitis begins its life as a liana, and continues it as a large wood plant. Among other plants changes can be not so sharp. Individual development briefly repeats the basic stages of evolution of the species in focus. In conditions of the competition in tropical forest change of the vital form promotes sometimes a survival of the species.
Among cushions of mosses on tree branches at the height of more than 20 meters above the ground a stalk with short internodes creeps. It produces roots in nods; long aerial roots penetrate moss and hang down freely under the branch. On them the moisture necessary for growth of their owner is condensed. From each node long leafstalk rises, topped with large digitate leaf. This epiphytic aroid plant is the representative of widely spread Asian genus Epipremnum. Representatives of this genus are typical lianes beginning their life in underbrush and later creeping on high trees, closer to sunlight, growing to the huge size.
In Neocene one representative of this genus has turned to epiphyte: its stalk dies off from below, and the plant continues its life, receiving nutrition from air and dust gathering in forks of tree branches. For the special shape of leaves this plant is named buckeye-leaved epipremnum. Its distinctive feature is deeply dissected digitate leaves of adult plant. For representatives of this genus age-related change of leave shape is characteristic. At young plants leaves are cordate; at adult oness gradual change of their shape begins. Leaves of an adult plant of this species are umbrella-like, dissected to 7-9 approximately equal lobes similar to leaflets of buckeye tree (Aesculus). General outline of leaf is rounded, diameter of lamina reaches half meter. Leaf lobes are extended and rounded at top. Midrib of each lobe grows over the edge of the leaf as a “dropper”. It is a characteristic feature of the plants living in conditions of plentiful moisturing. Young leaves are simple, but in due course of growth gradually change the shape - from trilobate up to shape typical for adult plant.
Inflorescences develop in leaf axils on short flower stalks bent horizontally strongly. An inflorescence of this species is a short spadix covered with modified leaf – the spathe. Spathe is bicoloured – its external surface is brown, inner side is white with wax shine. Middle nerve of the spathe has grown up as very long shoot freely shaken in air. It is braided spirally, that gives to it original striped colouring. The shoot of spathe shakes from the slightest breeze, involving pollinators.
During the flowering of pistillate flowers the temperature of the inflorescence raises because of the intensed metabolism. On stigma of pistillate flowers the drops of the liquid containing a certain amount of amino acids appears – it is an additional attraction for pollinators. The plant is pollinated by flies and other small insects involved with its unpleasant smell. Flies willingly sit on hanging down objects, therefore the shoot of spathe serves for them as an original “ladder”. They creep under the spathe through narrow slit and pollinate pistillate flowers, simultaneously licking off drops of liquid produced by them. After the flowering of pistillate flowers the axis of an inflorescence extends and staminate flowers begin blossoming plentifully. Their flowering is accompanied by the emitting of unpleasant smell. Flies and beetles carry pollen of this plant on their bodies.
After pollination fruits ripen – small berries of bright red color. They are edible, and are carried by birds and small mammals. To the time of fruit ripening flower stalk becomes very strong and serves as an original “perch” for birds and bats. They perch on flower stalk and easily gather berries. Large seeds of buckeye-leaved epipremnum frequently sprout in epiphytic “flower baskets”, and the plant at once starts its development as an epiphyte.
star fungus (Rafflesiaster imitator)
Order: Sclerodermatales (Sclerodermatales)
Family: Sclerodermataceae (Sclerodermataceae)
Habitat: rainforests of Southeast Asia, Jakarta Coast, Sunda Land.
In human epoch gasteromycete fungi (the artificial group of basidiomycetes) were known as owners of the fruit bodies of the most freakish shapes. Some kinds could look like mesh constructions, others resembled flower or star, and third ones were more similar to simple spheres, hollow or filled with mycelium and spores. Neocene fungi are also remarkable in fancifulness of shapes, and some species have developed unusual vital strategies.
In Southeast Asia on trunks of lianas and wood plants of grape family various kinds of flowering plants of Rafflesiaceae family parasitize. One of their species is rotten-flowered parvirafflesia. Its flowers blossom on bark of the infected plants in numerous congestions. And near to these flowers a somewhat different ones open – they have not so smooth edges of petals, little bit different colouring and smooth external surface. However, these ones are not flowers at all, and their owner does not belong to plant kingdom. These are fruit bodies of flower-mimic star fungus, a fungus of gasteromycete group.
This fungus is a symbiote of parvirafflesia and the true parasite of plants of grape family. Its mycelium is interwined with parvirafflesia tissues under the bark of the host plant.
Mycelium of flower-mimic star fungus penetrates into the wood of the host plant, and the fungus exists as a parasite, simultaneously delivering a part of nutrients to its plant partner. This union of fungus and parvirafflesia pays off during the breeding of these species. Possible, in the beginning of this evolutionary transformation the fungus lived as soil saprotroph, but later in had been “involved” into parasitism by ancestors of parvirafflesia formed mycorrhiza with this fungus. Fruit bodies of flower-mimic star fungus have vague resemblance to flowers of parvirafflesia. The formation of fruit bodies begins almost simultaneously with flowering of parvirafflesia. Young fruit bodies are tight and spherical; they grow on short thick stipes from bark of the host tree. They ripen, the friable mycelium inside them is resorbed, and the shell becomes leathery. Fully developed fruit bodies open like flowers – they tear to form irregular-shaped lobes. They imitate flowers not ideally, but for insects the passing similarity is quite enough, and in addition the spore producing is accompanied by strong unpleasant smell.
Spore-bearing part of fruit body of this fungus represents spherical congestion of spongy nycelium in middle of the opened fruit body. Spore-bearing mycelium is covered with sticky liquid; it emits an unpleasant smell. Flies and small beetles gather on fruit bodies and creep on spore-bearing parts of fruit body. After that they fly on parvirafflesia flowers blossoming nearby. In such a way the probability of meeting of fungus and plant raises considerably.
Spores of fungus grow during the formation of parvirafflesia fruit. Mycelium develops in fruit tissue rich in nutrients, and surrounds and penetrates into ripening seeds of the plant. It does not kill an embryo of parvirafflesia, but as if is conserved in it. The mycelium also surrounds ripen seeds, sprouting in fruit pulp. Therefore the insects carrying seeds of parvirafflesia simultaneously settle this fungus. Thus, symbiotic relations start development since the earliest age of plant and fungus and do not interrupt during the whole life of both organisms. At the appearing in the favorable environment the fungus begins the development the first. The sprout of parvirafflesia begins its growth only when fungus provides it with sufficient amount of nutrients.
hanging tail fungus (Epiphitocaudis foetidus)
Order: Pezizales (Pezizales)
Family: Pezizaceae (Pezizaceae)
Habitat: rainforests of Southeast Asia, “epiphytic baskets” in forest canopy.
In nature fungi play a vital role in decomposition of organic substances. Due to their activity the dead animals and rotten off parts of plants decompose much faster, rather than due to processes of natural oxidation and decomposition. Epiphytic “hanging gardens” represent very favorable environment for activity of saprophytic fungi. Dead foliage, the bottom part of moss stalks, dead invertebrates and bird dung – all these substrata give an opportunity of growth of fungi.
In forests of Southeast Asia the ascomycete lives, which has developed life in epiphytic “baskets”. In forest canopy there is a strict competition, and this fungus has changed passive way of settling with the help of wind to more progressive one – its spores are carried by insects. The fruit body of this fungus is much extended and hangs down from epiphytic “baskets”. It emits an unpleasant smell, and for these features the fungus is named smelly hanging tail fungus.
To use opportunities for moving more successfully, this fungus in due course of evolution simply used another’s “patent”. Fruit body of smelly hanging tail fungus is long and tubular; its length reaches 40-50 cm. In fact it is sharply asymmetric cup-shaped apothecium on small stipe. The stipe is remarkable because of dense structure and flexibility – it does not crack even at the intense wind blows shaking the tree. One edge of the fruit body is considerably enlarged and extended to thin tail-like outgrowth. Thus, the fruit body of smelly hanging tail fungus imitates shoot on spathe leaf of epiphytic aroid plant – buckeye-leaved epipremnum. Lateral parts of fruit body in the basis of the outgrowth have grown wide and are turned to a tube. The concave surface of the fruit body represents spore-bearing layer. Fruit body of this fungus is colored white, and long tail-like outgrowth is black.
Spores of smelly hanging tail fungus are carried by flies and small beetles. Like a model plant, this fingus uses feature of behaviour of flies – their propensity to land on objects hanging down. The insects involved with a smell land on tail-like outgrowth of fruit body and rise on it to the curtailed part of fruit body. In searches of the source of smell they creep on spore-bearing surface, and fungus spores stick to their legs.
At ascomycetes the fruit body is formed after merging of haploid myceliums of different “genders”. Therefore for successful growth of such mushrooms it is favourable when the insects carrying its spores visit some more genetically different fruit bodies. Pollinating the inflorescences of buckeye-leaved epipremnum, insects in passing visit fruit bodies of hanging tail fungus.
From spore mycelium develops. It exists in the best way in depth of moss cushions and under lichens, on bark of tree. According to nutrition features this fungus belongs to saprophytes.
predatory leaf-legged bug (Orchidocimex platypes)
Order: Bugs (Hemiptera)
Family: Assassin bugs (Reduviidae)
Habitat: rainforests of Southeast Asia, forest canopy.
Picture by Amplion
In due course of evolution insects have learned to imitate
plants skillfully. Dry and alive leaves, patterns on bark, rotten off parts
of plants – all these objects represent models for imitation at insects. Insects
have managed to imitate even flowers famous in their bright colouring and freakish
shapes. Some kinds of mantids have especially succeeded in it: they even hunt
prey with the help of skilful imitation of colors. In Neocene among skilful
simulators of flowers one species of bugs has appeared – orchid-mimic predatory
This insect has adapted to imitation of flowers of tiger-striped dendrobium orchids, and very precisely imitates flower by colouring and body shape. Length of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug is about 25 mm. When this insect stays outside of orchid flowers, its body shape seems very strange, but in typical habitat this bug is completely imperceptible for an extraneous sight.
Body of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug is flat and rather wide. Rear legs of this bug arevery big – in proportions this insect is similar to grasshopper though it can not jump. On tibiae of rear legs expanded leaf-looking blades with the wavy edges develop, imitating sepals of flower of the model orchid. Orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug has two pairs of wings, and insects of both sexes are good flyers. Front pair of wings is large (they are little bit longer then abdomen of this insect) and bright, with wavy edge and relief costae. Colouring of wings is yellow with brown cross strokes and several orange spots. Having stretched front wings in sides, this bug imitates petals of an orchid.
The back pair of wings has dark red color with darker front edge. At the insect attracting its prey they cover the middle part of abdomen. The abdomen itself is wide – it imitates labellum of an orchid. On abdominal segments from edges serrate outgrowths develop. Colouring of abdomen is white, but the wings covering it give to the body of insect similarity to labellum of an orchid. Head of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug has large flat outgrowth sticking out forward – it mimics top sepal of orchid flower. Its colouring is similar to colouring of front wings. Large spherical eyes are located in the basis of this outgrowth. With their help the bug can easily see that is above it.
Visual imitation is very good in case of necessity of hiding from predators hunting with the help of sight. Due to the colouring this bug is perfectly camouflaged from birds and lizards. But not less important problem is to involve prey to itself. Orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug not simply simulates a smell of an orchid. It also produces special odorous substance with an admixture of attractants, and males of some species of butterflies fly literally right to its deadly grasp.
This bug seizes flower stalk by two front pairs of legs. Rear legs not only mimic sepals of orchid, but also are intended for prey catching. They are very mobile, and bug is able to move them abruptly. It seizes by rear legs the insects deceived by its smell and sucks them dry. This bug eats the insects which are not exceeding the size of its own body.
Fertility of orchid-mimic predatory leaf-legged bug is small and does not exceed 20 eggs in one clutch. But it is compensated by strongly expressed care of posterity. Female of this species carries the clutch on its own body until nymphs will hatch, having placed eggs on bottom side of abdomen. Nymphs spend on female’s abdomen the first some days of life. They suck out female’s prey, and pass one moult on mother’s body. In due course of development nymphs of this insect change colouring for some times. Nymphs of early age, having left the female’s body, are green – they hunt among moss and stalks of epiphytic plants. Elder nymphs have brown color. They have expanded abdomen and serrated edges of abdominal segments. Outgrowths on rear pair of legs are still underdeveloped. At this stage of development they live and hide from enemies on bark of tree. During the last moult, turning to imago, this bug gets bright colouring, and its body finally takes its fanciful shape. Imago moves to orchid flowers and searches for prey there.
beetle (Clauderocarabus captivus)
Order: Beetles (Coleoptera)
Family: Carabids (Carabidae)
Habitat: Southeast Asia, Jakarta Coast, leaves of Gesneria-looking flowerleaf and other species of this genus.
Life inside the leaf of the plant evolved as a trap for insects is very much risky step for insects. Nevertheless, such species were known in human epoch, and the new species leading such risky life have evolved in Neocene. In leaves of carnivorous flowerleaf plant one species of carabid beetles of tropical forest has found very convenient place for life. The bright margin of plant’s leaf imitates the flower cup and involves insects into the leaf, and hermit beetle settles right there. The insect “disarms” plant in very simple way: it simply gnaws an aperture in the bottom part of trapping leaf of flowerleaf. Digestive juice containing the enzymes flows out, and beetle settles inside the leaf comfortably. It is protected from possible attack of predators and eats insects getting inside the leaf of the plant.
This beetle species has an expressed sexual dimorphism related to differences in habit of life. Male of hermit beetle is about 2 cm long. It has narrow body and strong elytra of green color with bronze metal shine and granular surface. Male’s head is rather large, and mandibles have pointed tips. It spends not so much time inside the leaf of flowerleaf: male penetrates into the leaf and feeds in it within approximately one week after metamorphosis. At this time in its body gonades form completely, and male changes habit of life. It ripes the leaf basis open by mandibles and leaves it for ever. All its further life is devoted to search of females. Male is able to run quickly and in case of danger it hides in moss or in thickets of epiphytes.
Females are not inclined to lead a mobile way of life. They prefer to remain inside a leaf of flowerleaf for all further life after the metamorphosis. But nevertheless during its life female of this species may replace some leaves in due course of their ageing. Female has shorter elytra (they reach only half of abdomen length), but it is larger compared to male – its length is about 4 cm. It has rather big abdomen and short legs. Colouring of female is dimmer – it is green without metal shine; elytra are smooth. It is more cautious and moves to new leaves at night.
The comfortable habitat appears a prison for this beetle. The features of anatomy of leaf of flowerleaf can keep not only smaller insects, but even rather large carabid beetle. Therefore insects copulate in special way. Female ready to insemination gnaws through the side of leaf one more aperture and marks its edges with odorous secretions. It is a signal for male searching for females. Having found a leaf in which female lives, male draws its attention, tapping its abdomen against the leaf surface in special beat. Female exposes tip of abdomen from an aperture, and male impregnates her, having actually not seeing the female itself. If near the female some males meet, among them the rivalry takes place – every one tries to push the others away from an aperture leading to the female. Sometimes fighting beetles simply fall from tree, from height of several tens meters.
Female lays eggs on substratum under the leaf. It pastes them in small portions when wind shakes leaf in which it lives, and the aperture cut in leaf wall touches bark or roots. Fertility of the female makes about one hundred eggs for one clutch. Female repeats egg laying 4-5 times per life.
Larva of hermit beetle leads free and active life. It is a worm-like creature of grey color covered with small bristles; it creeps among epiphytic plants and moss. It has well advanced legs, its body covers are firm enough, and mandibles are very well advanced. Larva eats more often soft-bodied invertebrates – slugs and snails. The stage личинки proceeds about one year. Metamorphosis of the larva takes place in shelter among epiphytes or under flaked away tree bark. Imago of this species at once begins search of leaves suitable to life inside them.
flowerpecker (Anthopicus ruber)
Order: Passerine birds (Passeriformes)
Family: Flowerpeckers (Anthopicidae)
Habitat: tropical woods of Southern Asia.
In tropical zone of Earth birds compete to butterflies, having developed feeding on nectar of some flower species. In Holocene representatives of several bird families from different orders had developed such feeding habit independently from each other. In America there were various hummingbirds, in tropics of Old World sunbirds, at Hawaii islands Hawaiian honeycreepers, and at the region of Australia and New Zealand and islands of Pacific Ocean there were honey eaters. In addition also nectar-eating lory parrots from Australia and Indonesia are known. The basic variety of these species of birds is connected with tropical rainforests giving a wide range of food choice and an opportunity of strict specialization. When at the border of Holocene and Neocene the area of tropical woods at Earth was sharply reduced, the majority of species of these groups had simply died out. But in Neocene to change them new birds, descendants of less specialized families, had appeared. In tropics of Malayan zoogeographic area small flowerpeckers, descendants of estrildid finches (possible, of any species of amadines numerous in this region) became such birds.
The characteristic feature of flowerpeckers is very bright colouring combining red and yellow colors with black or brown. Frequently colouring is supplemented with metal shine. Males are colored much brighter than females, differing from them also by larger size. Usually flowerpeckers are small birds, not exceeding sparrow in size, and often much smaller.
All flowerpeckers eat nectar of various species of tropical trees and epiphytes. They are especially involved with red and red-and-white flowers with contrast spots and strips in fauces. Some tropical trees are adapted to pollination only by flowerpeckers. For feeding in flowers at these birds special beaks developed – long and rather thin, suitable in shape to flowers of fodder plants. At some species beak is crescent bent.
Legs at all flowerpeckers are very small: birds hardly can walk on flat surface. Two toes on paw are directed forward, and two ones back: it is a characteristic feature of clambering birds (for example, woodpeckers and parrots). But wings of these birds indicate remarkable flight abilities: they are peaked and narrow. Similarly to wing of hummingbird, wing of flowerpecker during flap moves along complex trajectory resembling the number eight. These birds do not yield in skill of flight of hummingbird: they can equally easily fly by tail forward, vertically upwards or downwards, make sharp turns and make other figures of bird “aerobatics”. Tail at flowerpeckers is long and narrow, or short and wide with two long feathers in the middle.
Red flowerpecker is the giant among representatives of family: it is like large finch in size. Because of large size art of air acrobat is inaccessible to the full to it, and it eats nectar of flowers simply perching on plant (smaller species of flowerpeckers can suck nectar of flowers, hovering above them hurriedly). Beak of this bird is straight and long: approximately one and half times longer then head is (bird is named because of it: Anthopicus means “flower woodpecker”).
Male’s feathering has metallic shine; head, chest and back are red, and wings are purple. At the female red color is replaced with reddish-brown, and it lacks metal shine. Around of eyes and the base of beak at this species there is a strip of naked skin.
Though flowerpeckers belong to warblers, their voices are rather inexpressive: they sound as sharp buzzing warble. In nesting season male involves females with resonant calls. It does not take place in care of posterity, confining itself only in building of nest. Perching near complete or not absolutely completed nest, it begins inviting females to the territory. Presence of semi-completed nest in suitable place at the male is a pledge of success of its courtship. The female having flied to a site of any male, first of all looks at nest, and only then estimates the advantages of the male.
This species nests in secluded places – in tree-trunk hollows and under flaking away bark of trees – and builds nest looking like deep bowl. For one year one female can make up to five clutches.
In clutch there are up to 4-5 eggs with a shell of dark green color. Only female hatches it within 10 days. Nestlings hatch naked and blind, eyes at them are opened at one week age. Then they begin fledging. Fortnight old fledglings are already almost completely fledged, only feathers of tail and wings at them are not completely developed yet, and stick like needles. They leave nest one week later, and about one week the female feeds them up.
The female feeds posterity on tiny insects and spiders gathered on flowers and stocked in special pouch under beak. First three months of life the young birds are similar to the female in feathering coloration, but after the first mew males get bright colouring. At the half-year age these birds can nest.
Other species of flowerpeckers of closely related genera live in tropics of South-Eastern Asia:
Acrobatic flowerpecker (Micrantopicus curvirostris) – very small bird species. Body length of adult bird (not including tail and beak) is only about 5 cm; its weight is about 10 grams. Male of this species is remarkable in very bright colouring: metallic-blue wings, back of steel color and red spot on throat. Female has grey colouring without metal shine with light bluish shade on wings. Beak of acrobatic flowerpecker is bent downwards and long: it is twice longer than head of bird. This species differs in amazing flying abilities: it is able to hover above flowers headfirst and to fly “upside down”, upwards the belly. Due to this simple trick acrobatic flowerpecker has expanded spectrum of fodder plants due to species having “wrong” bend of flower and adapted to entomophily. This species lives in forest canopy and nests in thickets of epiphytic plants.
Butterfly flowerpecker (Papiliornis papiliopterus) is a chaffinch-sized bird. Wings are rather short, flight is flitting. Frequency of wing flaps is not so great, as at small species – in flight this bird utter quiet buzzing by wings. Colouring of feathering at males of this species is bright: yellow head and stomach, green back and black primary feathers with white tips. Tail is short and wide, green with white tips of feathers. Females are smaller than males; they have dim brown feathering with black strokes on head and back. Primary feathers at them are also black, but without white tips.
Beak is straight, exceeding approximately twice the length of head. Butterfly flowerpecker differs from other species by one feature of feeding: it can “break open” flowers of the inaccessible shape, pecking through theis sides and licking nectar. It feeds in flight, but sometimes perches on flowers.
Tube-tongued flowerpecker (Anthopiculus tubilinguus) is starling-sized bird. Colouring of feathering is rather bright: male’s head is lemon-yellow; wings and back have “tortoise-shell” pattern: yellow feathers with metal shine and black fringing. At the female head is yellowish-brown (“honey” color), and feathers on back lack metal shine. Stomaches at males and females have brown color. Tail is short, but at the male two middle feathers are long and thin. Tail and minor primary feathers are gray-brown.
Interesting feature of this species of birds is specialization to sucking of flower nectar: tongue is very long (in mouth it is strongly compressed and bent across); its edges are turned upwards and have grown together. Thus, tongue of this bird is tube-like. It can extend approximately at 5-6 cm from bird’s beak. Beak is rather thin and slightly deflexed. During the feeding bird moves apart by jaws bilabiate flowers and pushes tongue in fauces of flower to honeycup.
Despite of high specialization to nectarivory this bird willingly eats insects. Besides sometimes this bird ravages nests of small birds, pecking and sucking eggs. Occasionally this species of birds may be met even in underbrush, and under rather unexpected circumstances: this bird frequently feeds on carrion, licking off juice exuding at flesh rotting.
It nests all the year round; the pendant nest looking like basket is built by both birds of pair of rods and plant fibers. In clutch it may be up to 3-4 eggs.