In response to my last post, on the carnivorous hooded pitcher plant, Brian Menker sent along an interesting email and a great photo. He reminded me of the 2006 Ohio Botanical Symposium, where we heard Dr. Greg Dahlem of Northern Kentucky University give an interesting talk entitled "Critters in Pitchers". Dahlem delivered a fascinating pictorial expose of the various small animals who cheat the fate of most of their kin, and have evolved strategies for living and breeding within pitcher plants.
If there's one thing you don't want to come back as, it is a flesh fly. These insects are tasked with some of Nature's most gruesome roles. They flock to the nastiest of the nasty: decomposing animals, dung in every form, even the raw bleeding wounds of mammals. Once a suitably hideous substrate has been located, the female flesh fly deposits her eggs into the foul gruel. They quickly hatch, and it is the wriggling white grub's lot in life to consume whatever mess Mother Fly has stuck them in.
Photo: Brian Menker
So, how does Brian Menker play into this morbid tale? Does Brian even want to factor into this story? Well, yes, he does. A keen biologist and ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Brian remembered the aforementioned Dr. Dahlem's pitcher plant lecture, and knew that a few species of Sarcophagid flies have evolved to utilize the decaying gunk found within a pitcher plant leaf. On a 2007 trip to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina, Brian and company found themselves in a colony of yellow trumpets, Sarracenia flava, one of our most striking species of pitcher plant. While admiring the plants, he noticed a fly lurking below one of the plant's hoods, and made the photo above.
The fantastically complex web of Nature goes far beyond even the most vivid imagination. There are myriad animals out there, doing their thing, and we have no idea they even exist. And somehow, even if seemingly unfathomable to our constrained minds, each of them plays some vital role in the whole shebang of Mothership Earth. Even these flies.
But, I told you that you probably wouldn't want to return as a flesh fly.