|By Michael E.
Lessons in survival are all around us. Speed, ability to fly, and other
defenses and adaptations ranging from color to taste give insects a
range of escape avenues.
But the final moment comes in many disguises.
It was a mild, cloudless November noon as we mucked into our favorite
bog near Hosford in Liberty County, home to venus flytraps, sundews and
assorted carnivorous plants. We stopped to examine one of tall
white-topped pitcher plants that have a license to cannibalize there.
The insects, which cannot get out because of slippery hairs on the
of the plant, ultimately are dissolved into a diabolical
milkshake for the plant which requires nitrogen to survive in the acid
leucophylla blooms in North Florida
with its maroon flower
|We adjusted its
operculum or large flap that keeps the rain
There we witnessed a harsh drama in one of nature's chambers of
A large orange butterfly was trapped down its throat, captured by one
of the most ingenious plants on earth.
The pitcher plant is of the
legendary family of botanical carnivores that lures insects to their
deaths with its sweet nectar. Well-nourished plants can grow as high as
three feet or more.
We'd seen "love bugs" and crickets and such trapped in the plants, but
this was the largest insect we had ever seen trapped. But wait!
As we examined the Sarracenia
leucophylla or white-topped pitcher
plant, and set up to take a picture, we noticed that the butterfly was
Obviously, it had just been captured by the plant.
We reached gingerly into the throat of the plant with a hand and
gradually pulled the insect from its tomb.
Butterfly quickly climbed
onto blade of plant
We placed it on the ground
and it quickly climbed the nearest green blade. While it did not
fly, one could see that it was attempting to flap its wings, which had
been torn in the ordeal.
When we left the bog, the butterfly was still clinging to the blade of
grass, and we hope eventually made its way back into the air. While it
is said by the poet that nature is 'red in tooth and claw,'
and there is something to the idea of the survival of the fittest,
there is also the possibility of intervention.
This species of butterfly was named Agraulis
vanillae by Linnaeus, 1758. It was Linnaeus who also formalized
the name for the genus Sarracenia, although the leucophylla was named
later by Rafinesque. Michel Sarrazin, who first used the name, was the
father of Canadian botany and lived in late 17th Century. These plants
grow into Canada.
We often see gulf fritillaries on the autumn flowers, and their
caterpillars love passionflower vines. The whole family of
butterflies called the Heliconiidae are associated with passiflora in
North and South America.
A fascinating website on pitcher plants by naturalist Barry Rice can be
found at http://www.sarracenia.com
he also discusses his new book.