Tales From a Tiny GardenAttack of the killer wasps
Chemical warfare in a tiny garden in Rotorua sitting above the lake not far from the CBD.
Chemical warfare in a tiny garden in Rotorua.
A sunny afternoon relaxing in suburban Rotorua, above the lake not far from the CBD. Bad things happen in tiny gardens.
Early summer and dark chemical processes are at work in the bright sunlight. Swan plants are producing and stockpiling deadly molecules in their sap and leaves. A chemical defence system designed to kill insects foraging for food. The main components of this molecular arsenal are cardenolide glycosides, steroids with an attached sugar structure. These toxins can induce cardiac arrest.
Attack of the killer wasps.
Asian paper wasps are very determined predators of monarch caterpillars and are unaffected by the cardenolides. Wasps need protein for nest construction and developing larvae in spring and early summer. Caterpillars are a good source of protein at this stage.
I watched wasps make their way through dense foliage in relentless pursuit of their prey. Monarch caterpillars appear to understand the danger and some seek refuge amongst the spines of the swan plant seed pods. The aerial bombardment is relentless and a plant can be completely stripped of the caterpillar population in a day. The big mature caterpillars are a favourite target and I have seen them stand up on a leaf in a forlorn attempt to beat off a merciless attacker.
The assault has a number of stages
- The wasp lands on the caterpillar and probably stings it
- The wasp starts to skin the caterpillar while it is still moving. It bites through the skin which rolls back to reveal the underlying body.
- It may move the whole carcass to a more stable location where it slices it up into manageable chunks to fly away with.
In late summer when the need for protein has diminished, wasps change their diet, feasting instead on the nectar produced by swan plant flowers.
Relationship beteeen steroids and cardenolide glycosides
Tales From a Tiny GardenAttack of the killer Mantis
A sunny afternoon relaxing in suburban Rotorua. Owhata, above the lake not far from the CBD. Bad things happen in tiny gardens.
A sunny afternoon, the perfect picture, where’s my camera when I need it? A white butterfly flutters gently on a pot plant decorating the fence line beside the tree nursery. It is rushing to fill the the tank with carb rich nectar. It’s dangerous to park here for too long. Something is amiss? The delicate wings are beating with too much urgency. Maybe two insects are locked in an embrace, rolling on the soft red petals. I need a closer look or perhaps a visit to Specsavers.
My tiny garden is a beautiful savage microcosm.The terrified butterfly is held in the death grip of a Praying Mantis. Two raptor arms encircle wings and abdomen. Pointy restraining attachments on the legs gouge the insect’s abdomen as it struggles to escape. Sharp teeth slice effortlessly through brain and neck ending the brief resistance.
After five minutes of carnage all that remains of the butterfly is a single surgically amputated winglet that escaped butchery, floating away on the gentle breeze.
Tales From a Tiny GardenThe Hibiscus Flower Night Show
I used a Picamera attached to a Raspberry Pi 3 running a simple time lapse code. The 5 megapixel camera shot one frame every 120 seconds. The final movie was processed using Time Lapse Tool at 30 frames per second,
The plant was illuminated at night with a 12v AC PRO Jumpstarter equiped with an emergency light
Hibiscus flowers are brightly coloured plate sized beacons. They evolved to attract humming birds and winged insects. They open at night and are ready for action when the sun comes up. Nothing much happens as the bud prepares to open during the day. The nocturnal opening is explosive.
The brightly coloured bulls-eye guides hummingbirds and butterflys into the flower.
The large erect central stamen has anthers anthers loaded with yellow pollen.
five dark stigmas collect pollen pushed onto them by flapping wings.
The flower is capable of collecting large volumes of water and sunlight on it’s surface.
What triggers the flower opening?
What drives the flower opening?
Slow opening flowers have a longer existence than fast opening flowers, why?