Closer videos of sticky chrysomelid beetle feet in action

Here are some more video segments (as GIFs) of the sticky hairy pads of the chrysomelid beetle feet in action. It looks like the beetle can control their stickiness very rapidly. I don’t really understand how. The stickiness is caused by microdroplets of lipids on the tips of the flattened hairs of the pads on each side of the claws. But surely this liquid can’t be emitted and re-absorbed quickly enough to allow the beetle to change from walking to defensive sticking and then back to walking again in the space of a few seconds.

Front foot:

Middle foot:

Hind foot:

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

Second trip to our Rio Machay Reserve: Orchids, magnolias, tortoise beetles, and toxic trees

Chrysomelid beetle feet in action.  Video: Lou Jost

Chrysomelid beetle feet in action. Video: Lou Jost

A few weeks ago I visited the east ridge of our new Rio Machay Reserve, and found lots of interesting things. I also seemed to get through the visit without touching any Toxicondendron trees (same genus as poison ivy but more virulent), which had caused grave problems to my students and I a decade ago. Encouraged by this, I visited again last week, to search for new Magnolia species and interesting, biogeographically-informative orchids.

I picked a perfect almost-rainless day. The forest was beautiful in the sun, with lots of butterflies and other insects. Right at the start, at about 1600m, I found another beautiful chrysomelid beetle from the tribe Cassidini, a “tortoise beetle” similar to the fancy species I wrote about recently (“An insect that uses its own feces to build a statue of an insect or spider on its back”). This one had a more colorful pattern, which had no obvious function.

The beetle's back pattern. Note the transparent sections of its shell. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The beetle’s back pattern. Note the transparent sections of its shell. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The feet of these Cassidinae beetles are very unusual, with mop-like pads of long oily flattened hairs that stick tightly to even the smoothest surface. When the beetle feels threatened, it sticks tightly to its leaf with these fancy feet, and pulls its shell tight against the leaf surface. The shell extends beyond the feet so there is no place to get a grip on this slippery dome. It can hang on against a force 100 times greater than its body weight.

I’ve been wondering how the beetle detaches the sticky feet from the surface when it wants to walk. From looking at the feet of the previous species, I inferred that the two long claws between the pads could act as a lever to separate the pads from the leaf surface. However, I made that inference based on microscopic observations of the dead beetle’s claws. This new beetle gave me the chance to observe the feet in action.

First I made some microphotos of the feet. The beetle sometimes stood still long enough to take the several hundred photos required to make each final image, though this required a lot of luck and patience. These feet had bigger secondary pads than those of the other species. Then I made a couple of videos of the feet in action. They are too big to include here, but I include a small reduced gif above, and I may put an additional one in a separate post, to keep this post from getting too heavy.

The full-sized video clearly shows that my earlier inference was wrong. The claws aren’t being used as a lever, at least not in the way that I imagined. The feet also pivot freely at times, as if the pads are not always sticky, though sliding might be easy since the surface tension isn’t broken (it is easy to slide a wet piece of glass over another piece of glass, but hard to pull them apart). Some articles had suggested that the beetle can produce the sticky liquid quickly when needed, and that the pads were normally not so sticky. Other people were skeptical of this, and the permanently-wet pads of the other species I photographed suggested that they were always sticky. I still don’t really know.

A miniature woodpecker, Lafresnaye's Piculet, just 9 cm long, smaller than some cigarettes! Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A miniature woodpecker, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, just 9 cm long, smaller than some cigarettes! Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Also early in my climb I saw a pair of adorable Lafresnaye’s Piculets, tiny little woodpeckers that specialize in pecking the thin terminal twigs of branches where bigger woodpeckers can’t go.

This orchid, Sphyrastylis dalstromii, has unusual leaves and flowers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This orchid, Sphyrastylis dalstromii, has unusual leaves and flowers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

An unusual orchid, Sphyrostylis dalstromii, first discovered by my friend Stig Dalstrom, hung down from a trunk on the side of the trail. These plants have iris-like dagger-shaped leaves and the stem grows continuously from its tip, unlike most New World orchids which make successive short growths from a rhizome.

Later in my climb to the magnolia trees we’d recently discovered, I found one of the most spectacular Pleurothallis orchids in the world, P. (Elongatia) excelsa. I’d only seen this once before in my life. Most species in this artificial genus have tiny, dull flowers. John Jearrard writes this about the genus: “There is a strange fascination to Pleurothallis which are some of the dullest flowering plants imaginable. There are hundreds of them, actually more than 1000 at present but the number varies as more are found. The number reduces every time a botanist decides that a group aren’t really dull enough to belong, and shunts them off into a new genus. They are confusing, they are dull and they are fascinating.”

This species breaks all the rules of this group of orchids. It is huge, imposing, and spectacular. The plant is several feet tall and the pendant flower stalk is also several feet long. The flowers are enormous compared to the usual species. This plant was apparently not known from Ecuador until I found it here in the 1990’s. It was a real pleasure to see it again. (In a future post I might talk about its proper generic classification, which turns out to be very complicated. I think it is best placed in Elongatia, not Stelis, and certainly not Pleurothallis in any sense of that genus. See my article here for an introduction to problems of the old genus Pleurothallis, and see Wilson et al and Karremans for more technical discussion on the position of this species and its close relatives like “P.” restrepiodes.)

Click here to enlarge.  The mysterious Magnolia tree I found here. I cleared out some of the bamboo which was beginning to overtake it. Some day we may see it flower so we can figure out what it is. Meanwhile we will include it in the laboratory Magnolia propagation project we are doing in collaboration with the Jardin Botanico de Quito and the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, financed by a grant from Botanical Gardens Conservation International. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click here to enlarge. The mysterious Magnolia tree I found here. I cleared out some of the bamboo which was beginning to overtake it. Some day we may see it flower so we can figure out what it is. Meanwhile we will include it in the laboratory Magnolia propagation project we are doing in collaboration with the Jardin Botanico de Quito and the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, financed by a grant from Botanical Gardens Conservation International. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Above that, at 2200m, I found a couple more of the giant-leaved mystery Magnolia trees I had come for. These have much bigger and more tapering leaves than the adult plants of our two new species of Magnolias from our nearby Rio Zunac Reserve. I strongly suspect they are different species, and hence probably new to science. [Note added April 30: Dr Antonio Vazquez, magnolia expert, and Eduardo Calderon, who has grown many Colombian magnolia species from seed, both say that juvenile magnolia trees often have much bigger leaves than adults, so I now think these forms are probably juveniles of the smaller-leaved species that Juan Pablo Reyes and our caretakers found on their visit here a few weeks ago. That may or may not be M. vargasiana, one of the new species from the Rio Zunac Reserve.] However w We do not know the juveniles of the new Magnolia species from the Rio Zunac, so we cannot rule out the possibility that one of those species has giant leaves when the tree is young. I could find no flowers, which would have settled the issue.


On my way down I was accosted by two Black-billed Mountain-Toucans (Andigena nigrirostris). These big toucans are always brave and curious in wild areas where nobody goes. These two came very close at eye level, rattling their beaks at me. But they were moving around too fast for good pictures. I got a few shots of one of them behind a tree. I include a better picture recently taken by Fausto Recalde in one of our other reserves. The Andigena toucans are among the most beautiful of the world’s toucans; besides this species, we are lucky to have two others in our reserves.

It was a wonderful day, but the next day I felt sick. The day after, I felt worse, and saw why. My right arm and the right side of my face was covered with a red rash. By the third day my right eye was swelling shut. I knew immediately what was wrong…

This time the toxic tree Toxicodendron, whose local name is "alubillo", got me again. This is the earliest stage. If left untreated my whole body would be covered with bursting yellow pustules in a week or two....Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This time the toxic tree Toxicodendron, whose local name is “alubillo”, got me again. This is the earliest stage. If left untreated my whole body would be covered with bursting yellow pustules in a week or two….Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

In my post from last week about this trail, I wrote “From 1996 to about 2004 I spent a lot of time exploring the western arm of the horseshoe, but only visited the eastern arm once or twice. A poisonous tree called Toxicodendron (same genus as American poison ivy) is common near the beginning of the trail up the eastern arm, and I developed a nasty allergy to it. A week after my last trip there (2004?), my eyes were swollen shut and yellow liquid dripped from my earlobes, and I nearly clawed my skin off from itching…. Since then I thought it best to avoid that ridge.”

I did not have problems after my trip two weeks ago. but this time, in spite of my care, I had apparently brushed against the dreaded Toxicodendron tree known here as Alubillo, which I had worried about in my earlier post. I knew that by next week, my whole body would be covered with this rash, and by the week after that, my eyes would be swollen shut and yellow liquid would be dripping from my ears. I don’t know what would happen after that— by the fourth week I had found a doctor who knew the cure (after many stupid doctors who prescribed nonsense). So I have now begun taking that cure, prednisone, and already I am better. (Added note: My friends who are reading this, please don’t worry about me, this is a common routine for me…)

[AApril 30: Photos of the Toxicodendron added below. Note to self: Learn to avoid!!]

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

An insect that uses its own feces to build a statue of another insect or spider on its back

The membracid treehopper I posted recently is weird enough, but it is not the strangest insect I’ve seen this year. Those treehoppers evolved complex structures on their backs, sometimes imitating ants, showing that under some conditions this kind of imitation gives the treehopper a fitness advantage. Now I’ve found another insect with a fake insect on its back, but this time the insect itself builds the fake insect, out of its own droppings, and without being able to see what it is doing!

Evolution works with what’s available in small steps, and not all groups of insects have complex structures growing out of their backs that can later be molded by natural selection into the shape of a nasty insect. Herbivorous beetle larvae, for example, lack such structures. They’re just shaped like boring caterpillars (and often mistaken for them, though they have no extra “prolegs”, just the regular six legs of most insects) without much fancy ornamentation. Even if models of scary insects would be useful for these larvae, there is not enough random structural variation to get the evolutionary process started in that direction.

However, several groups of these beetle larvae have evolved an unusual defense that might provide material for further natural selection: they build a shield on their backs, made out of their own droppings, often mixed with their own shed skins. The poop-shield, usually called a “fecal shield” in the literature, is not only a physical protection but also a chemical one, which has been shown to repel some predatory insects. It can have considerable structural complexity, and lots of variability.

Some of the most elaborate fecal shields are made by the chrysomelid beetle larvae which turn into “tortoise beetles”. Some species make coils of rope-like structures made of poop, while others make flat solid shields. These insect sculptors use a prehensile anus called the “anal turret” to accurately place each piece of poop on the ever-growing structure. The structure is connected to their bodies by some mobile hooks that the insect can move, deploying the shield as needed, though the range of movement is limited.

These complex yet variable structures, like the pronotum of a treehopper, provide natural selection with raw material for more elaborate constructions. Some of these structures, by accident, might vaguely resemble scary insects. If there is a selective advantage for structures that resemble scary insects (in other words, if the benefits outweigh the cost, so that bearers of such structures leave more offspring than larvae whose structures do not resemble scary insects) then eventually the members of a species may all end up building models of scary insects on their backs, and the accuracy of such models will increase over time in the population.

I recently found the chrysomelid beetle species shown here, whose larvae appears to be following this route, building a crude statue of a scary insect or spider on its back. [Note added April 22: expert Caroline Chaboo, U of Kansas, confirms this belongs to the tribe Cassidini.] I found two of these larvae on a small cloud forest tree called “morochillo” (in the tomato family, Solanaceae). When the larvae were young, they made fairly boring “legless” shields not much different from the kinds that many other chrysomelid larvae construct. They would use their anal turret, which is a flexible sort of hose, to place their feces carefully on the shield. When they shed their skins, as all insects do, the head capsule and hollow spines and other skin debris would be added to the shield. I have no idea how they knew where to put the droppings and skin pieces, since their eyes can’t see the top of the shield, where all the interesting stuff is.

As the larvae got older, they began to build long artificial “legs” on their shields. The shields were not both equally convincing; one larva had more realistic “legs” than the other. Eventually one of them disappeared, while the other made a pupa on its leaf, with the shield still attached.

I took the pupa into my house so I could see the beetle that would emerge. Eventually it did emerge, and I was surprised to see that the adult beetle ALSO had a fake insect on its back! But this one was just a flat silhouette of a big fly, in black, on a transparent carapace.

The beetle was fascinating not only for its fake fly but also for its strange feet. Under a microscope they looked like janitors’ mops, with divided, flattened hairs dripping a clear liquid from their ends. This clear liquid stuck the flat hairs to any smooth surface. My beetle easily held tight to perfectly smooth glass with these feet. Its two long claws between the flattened hairs probably act as levers to unstick the hairs when the beetle wants to leave. This group of beetles is famous for its ability to stick to leaves; they can hold on to a leaf even against a force 60-100 times their own weight. For more detailed analyses of the remarkable mechanisms involved, see here and here.

A magnified view of the flattened, divided hairs with their liquid droplets. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A magnified view of the flattened, divided hairs with their liquid droplets. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A note on the photos: The photos of the live larvae were made using normal macro techniques. The photos of the live adult were stacked composites of a few photos in the case of the views from the top. The live adult on the camera filter, however, was made from a stack of several hundred photos. It didn’t sit perfectly still and I had to manually edit out the wandering antennae.

The high-magnification images of the feet were made immediately after the beetle died, and each consist of about seven hundred photos. I probably shot 5000 photos in total. It was hard!!! I used a 10x Mitutoyo microscope objective attached to various long-focal-length lenses on an old Nikon D90, moving on a StackShot rail. I get roughly similar results mounting the microscope objective directly on a Panasonic bridge camera, the FZ300, or on a Sony HX400V, and these can be managed by wireless smartphones with no need for a moving rail (the lens changes focus internally to image the different planes of the subject). In some cases, cross-polarized light was used to limit reflections. Small stacks were processed in Photoshop while those with hundreds of images were stacked with Zerene.

Lou Jost

Weird treehopper!

For years I’ve wanted to see one of the strange Membracid treehoppers, which biologists often write about but rarely find. At last I found some of them, feeding on one of our rarest tree species, Zapoteca aculeata. These bugs are only about 6-7mm long but are very complex for their size. They are related to cicadas, true bugs (like the assassin bug), and leafhoppers. The weird ones are in the family Membracidae. The species I found is in the genus Cyphonia, maybe C. trifida, though the pictures of C. trifida on the internet all show a single large yellow patch on the side of the head (see here, here, here, and here for examples) where mine have two small yellow patches.

These guys suck sap from trees, and are often social, occurring in loose or dense colonies. Mine are living on a single tree of Zapoteca aculeata. This species of tree was thought to be extinct, but was recently rediscovered here in Banos by my friend Nigel Pitman. It grows in several of our Banos-area reserves (our new Rio Machay Reserve, Cerro Candelaria Reserve,Naturetrek Reserve, Rio Zunac Reserve, and perhaps others) and we use it as one of our reforestation species when reforesting old pastures. I have a few in my yard and that is where I found these bugs. I’ve never seen them on any other tree. However such small bugs could easily escape my attention, so that doesn’t mean much.

Why do these bugs have what looks like a home-made TV antenna coming out of their backs?? Some species have even crazier horns than these, with hanging spheres and extra horns going in all directions. In one group of species, the back horns are clearly imitating big ants, which would frighten many predators. The videos below show some of those species:

In other species, the horns may imitate a common insect-eating fungus. Predators wouldn’t want to eat dead prey, so this might make sense. Some other species have elaborate horns whose functions are complete mysteries.

It has recently been discovered that these bugs “sing” to each other by transmitting vibrations through the tree stem and leaves. The vibrations don’t go into the air, just through the tree stem, so we can’t hear the sounds unless a device (like an old phonograph needle) converts the vibrations into aerial sounds. Both males and females make these songs, and a given species may have several different “songs”. Some are mating songs, some are aggressive songs, and some are warning calls. Males may even try to “jam” the songs of other males by singing a counter-song.

Listen to this NPR radio story with recordings of some songs (click on “Listen” in the NPR story page).

Here is a video made in Ecuador about these insects and their calls — I recommend you start at the 2:00 mark, the beginning dialogue is insufferable (I wish the narrator had been David Attenborough…):

And here is a whole library of calls of many different treehopper species; download any of them and listen with Windows Media Player or equivalent.

Might these vibrations be part of the reason for the weird horns on these bugs’ backs? Maybe they are resonators tuned to sense specific vibrations. The whole casque and horn assembly forms a big helmet, and itis hollow, an empty dry shell like an eggshell, with a huge airspace inside, suggesting that it might play some acoustic role. But I don’t think anyone really knows. Here is a diagram of the helmet (technically called the “pronotum”) from a recent scientific paper. The only connection of the helmet to the body is through the front legs and the neck.

Some of my pictures of these bugs are composites of many hundreds of images, each taken at a slightly different distance from the subject. These images have tiny depths of field, but the sharp parts of each image can be combined using software (Zerene Stacker). The insects are dead specimens in those pictures. I’ll add a post about this method one of these days if I can find the time.

Click here for more amazing treehopper images from Ecuador, taken by my friend Andreas Kay. Also see these amazing treehopper images from Piotr Naskrecki. And more here.

Lou Jost

A brief hike in our Rio Anzu Reserve


A couple of weeks ago I made a short visit to our lowest-elevation reserve, the Rio Anzu Reserve (1100-1200m elevation) in the Amazon basin, to mark some special orchids for a visiting student to study. Lowland Amazonia is the richest habitat on earth for birds and trees, and also hosts a seemingly never-ending parade of crazy insects. A trip to this reserve is always a mind-boggling experience, even though the reserve is very small and lacks larger birds and diurnal mammals due to indigenous hunting pressure in the surrounding area. (However, black jaguars stalk this forest unseen by human eyes, but recorded in several different camera traps…)


For a minute or two I saw this Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus), a core species of mixed-species insectivorous bird flocks here. Lou Jost/ EcoMinga.

For a minute or two I saw this Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus), a core species of mixed-species insectivorous bird flocks here. Lou Jost/ EcoMinga.

Quite often at the trail entrance of this reserve there will be a big mixed flock of mostly-insectivorous birds scouring the branches and leaves of the forest. On this trip I met with the flock as soon as I got out of the taxi-truck that brought me there. The flock and I seemed to follow the same forest path for a long way, and I enjoyed their noisy company. A particularly sharp bird call alerted me to the “leader” of the flock, a Fulvous Shrike-tanager (Lanio fulvus) an uncommon bird which does not occur at our higher elevation reserves. This is one of the famous “liar” birds (not to be confused with Lyre-birds!) that watches for hawks, etc, and warns mixed flocks of danger, but will sometimes “freeze” the flock with a false alarm call when it sees a bird flush a particularly appetizing insect. It then grabs the insect for itself (Munn 1986). In spite of its occasional duplicity, the presence of this species allows the other flock members to find more food, since they don’t have to waste as much time looking around for danger (they rely on the Shrike-tanager to do that). So a flock will generally cluster around the local pair of Shrike-Tanagers, and they move together through the forest.

Heliconius butterfly in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This Heliconius butterfly sat on the trail in the Rio Anzu reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Throughout the day fancy butterflies filled the air. My favorite (at least on this day) are the Heliconius butterflies. These butterflies have larva that feed on poisonous passionflower (Passiflora sp.) leaves, and they themselves thus become poisonous to birds. The adults have strong warning colors and patterns, which show a very complex but interesting geographical variation. In any given area, often two different Heliconius species will share exactly the same pattern, but in a different region, the same two species can share a completely different pattern. The geographical variants are intensely studied to give clues about the process of incipient speciation, the possible locations of wet “refugia” during past hot dry epochs, etc. I saw many species that day, but only managed to photograph one.

Passionflower in the forest understory. Photo" Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Passionflower in the forest understory. Photo:Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Appropriately I soon found a giant passionflower plant nearby. This species is a canopy liana but has specialized short clambering flowering stems that often come out near the ground. They are pollinated by hummingbirds.

The crown of white pointy “tentacles” in the center of the flower have an important function. Flowers that attract hummingbirds generally produce a lot of nectar, and this nectar is a tempting resource for other creatures, including many that play no role in pollination. Flowers with better defenses against nectar robbery will leave more descendants than those that don’t, so very elaborate defenses have evolved in many hummingbird flowers, including this one. The white spikes protect the nectar below them. They are easily parted by a hummingbird’s needle-like beak, but a clumsy ant or bee can’t get its head close to the nectar.

The back of the flower also has a defense against nectar robbers. The bracts surrounding the base of the flower have “extrafloral nectaries”, glands that produce a bit of nectar themselves. Ants and wasps like to hang out there and drink this nectar, and these nasty bugs scare away other kinds of bugs that could chew through the back to get to the big store of nectar inside.

The day was full of grasshoppers. I photographed an especially flashy one, but many more escaped my lens. One of the grasshoppers I did manage to photograph was carrying two parasitic mites (ticks) on one leg. Mites are commonly seen on insects in the tropics, but I don’t know much about them.

Mites (one healthy, one dead) on a grasshopper's leg in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Mites (one healthy, one dead) on a grasshopper’s leg in the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Along with the grasshoppers were many katydids. Most North American katydids eat leaves, but in the tropics things are more complicated. I found a nasty carnivorous katydid munching the severed torso of a walking stick [male of the genus Oreophoetes, according to Yannick Bellanger’s Comment below], while the walking stick’s mate another walking stick [possibly a new species according to Yannick Bellanger’s Comment below] sat and watched, motionless. The juices of the half-eaten walking stick, in turn, attracted tiny gnats which gathered under the katydid’s head waiting for a chance to steal a mouthful. It was a miniature Serengeti. The annoyed katydid repeatedly swatted the gnats with its forelegs, just like I was swatting the slightly larger gnats that were bugging me. [Edited Dec 1 to reflect my growing doubts that these two walking sticks really belong to the same species. They seem too different from each other. Any experts out there with an informed opinion? Edit June 22 2016: Thanks Yannick Bellanger for the IDs and for answering this question in the Comments. Both are males, of different genera.]

I found this carnivorous katydid munching on a walking stick while the walking stick's mate looks on. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I found this carnivorous katydid munching on a walking stick while the walking stick’s mate another walking stick looks on. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Victim's head. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Victim’s head. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This walking stick looked on while the katydid ate the other one.

This walking stick looked on while the katydid ate the other one Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

After a couple of hours I reached the Rio Anzu itself, an easy 15-minute walk if I had ignored the interesting bugs. This is where the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei grows on the wet riverside limestone. The plants are often submerged when the river rises. On this day the river was low and there were many individuals in flower.

A ladyslipper orchid, Phragmipedium pearcei, on the limestone of the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A ladyslipper orchid, Phragmipedium pearcei, on the limestone of the Rio Anzu. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The Rio Anzu. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The Rio Anzu. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

At first glance the texture of this ladyslipper orchid flower is unremarkable. It looks smooth like any other flower. I had never given it a second look until that day. A microscope revealed that the flower was a complex mosaic of textures, hairs, glands and stuff I still don’t understand. The hairs were clearly guides for the insect pollinators, which must first land on the white flat rim of the orchid’s pouch or “slipper” (the pouch is called the “lip” in orchid terminology). This white rim has a row of random green spots, and another loosely organized row of larger brown spots. When magnified, the green spots turn out to be many long parallel dark green ridges, separated by greenish brown “valleys”. The effect is almost iridescent. Edit Dec 1: In response to Lisa’s question below, I did some research and found that the pollinator is a female fly that thinks these green spots are actually aphids, the prey of the fly larvae. The female lands on the flower to lay eggs among the “aphids”, and falls into the pouch. My speculations about the spots looking like fly eyes were wrong.

Top view of the "slipper" or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Top view of the “slipper” or lip of the ladyslipper orchid Phragmipedium pearcei. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The staminode above the "slipper" or lip. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The staminode above the “slipper” or lip. At this magnification the green spots on the lip begin to show their true complexity. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Stack1

Under higher magnification the green spots on the lip reveal complex textures and stiff hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Under higher magnification the green spots on the lip reveal complex textures and stiff hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Remarkably complex surface details of the green spots. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Remarkably complex surface details of the green spots. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer view of the green spots reveal they are not just smooth spots of color. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer view of the green spots reveal they are not just smooth spots of color. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Eventually the pollinator must fall into the pouch (perhaps drugged by the orchid). Once the pollinator enters the pouch, it finds itself trapped, with limited ways out. Most of the inner surface of the lip is only lightly hairy, but one strip is carpeted with long hairs, and this strip leads the insect up to an escape route that passes directly under the stigma and anthers. The insect thus is forced to pollinate the flower if it wants to get out of there.

A cross-section view of the "slipper". Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A cross-section view of the “slipper”. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer cross-sectional view. Note the various kinds of hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Closer cross-sectional view. Note the various kinds of hairs. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The variety of textures on this flower make me eager to look more closely at other flowers. Expect to see many more micro-photos here in the future!

A jumping spider watched me photographing the grasshoppers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A jumping spider watched me photographing the grasshoppers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga

References

Munn, C. A. 1986. Birds that ‘cry wolf.’ Nature 319: 143-145.