Tuesday, April 30, 2013

West Virginia birding

A stunning male Luna moth, Actias luna, rests on a wall near the New River in Fayetteville, West Virginia, early this morning.

I'm down here for the week, leading field trips for the New River Birding & Nature Festival, as I've done for about eight years running. It's a fabulous area, full of stunning scenery, fantastic birds, and all manner of interesting flora and fauna. Even though birds are the focus, it's hard for me to focus on them for photography, as I've generally got my hands full with other things.

We see a lot of birds, though. Today's foray, which traversed a gorgeous mountain and ended up along the wild Gauley River, netted our participants all kinds of feathered goodies. Worm-eating Warbler teed up and singing. A half-dozen Cerulean Warblers, most heard, one seen. A bunch of other warblers. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Scarlet Tanagers. Four species of hawks. Up close and personal with Yellow-throated Vireos. And much more.

The Mountaineer State's namesake butterfly, the West Virginia White, Pieris virginiensis. We had scads of interesting leps today, and since I just had my macro lens bolted on and slung to the Canon, I made a few images of the little beasts. I'll try and nail some birds to share soon.

More updates to follow...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Falcate Orangetip

Tearing goofily around the woods in pursuit of small butterflies hardly seems to be an activity befitting grown men. But sometimes I can't help myself, and succumb to the allure of charming little animals such as the Falcate Orangetip, Anthocharis midea.

There! See? An orangetip rests on the oak leaf litter, right in the middle of the photograph. Such a view is typical of this species. Sharp-eyed and leery, the orangetips are quick to take wing when approached, and in the blink of an eye will be hundreds of feet away.

Ah! We crop our way in to the little beast, and can now admire the fabulous coloration of this male. The orange-yellow wing tips are diagnostic - quite unlike any of our other butterflies. Falcate Orangetips are tiny little insects, noticeably smaller than the familiar Cabbage White of towns, gardens and nearly everywhere open. Unlike Cabbage Whites, the orangetips are very much butterflies of the forest, seldom straying far from the cover of timber. They fly but for a brief time in April and May, so if you want to see one you'd better get afield soon.

Falcate Orangetips are a southerner, and best sought in the hill country of southern and eastern Ohio. I made these images in Shawnee State Forest where they are plentiful. An essential ingredient in the ecological orangetip recipe is mustards. Like many other species in the White family of butterflies, the orangetips must have mustards to deposit their eggs upon, which the caterpillars will fatten up on. A favored host plant seems to be Smooth Rock Cress, Arabis laevigata, but they will use the more plentiful toothworts as well.

Anyway, these little rascals can be devilishly hard to run down. The males never seem to stop. They have work to do, females to find. Their visits to flowers for nectar are usually quite brief, and as soon as you train the camera on one, it's gone, off to the next flower. A photographer trying to image a Falcate Orangetip is often like a puppet on a string, led in jerky erratic fits and spurts around the forest by tiny bit of gossamer-winged butterfly. An observer would think the photog to be a drunken lunatic, if they didn't know the score.

But even Falcate Orangetips must take a break and this one finally did. An orangetip in repose tightly appresses its wings over its body, and becomes one with the leaf litter. By slipping to the ground, and scootching along on my belly, I was able to get right on top of the animal, and capture the best images that I've made to date of one of these little stunners.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A few flowers of spring

I seldom ignore the wildflowers. They, in all of their colorful, ephemeral glory, usher in spring like no others. Following is a brief sampling of shots taken on recent expeditions. In the interest of time, or lack thereof, I shall just offer brief captions, and you may make what you will of them.
An elfin hummock of Bluets, Houstonia caerulea, brightens a rough embankment.

A Sessile Trillium, Trillium sessile, ekes out space on a rich hillside carpeted with other wildflowers. This plant is sometimes known as "Toadshade".

The pale lavender blooms of Long-spurred Violets, Viola rostrata, are adorned with baseball bat-like extensions. Look for them along streams and lush wooded terraces.

A tsunami of Pussy-toes, Anennaria plantaginifolia, washes down a barren slope. Later, beautiful American Lady butterflies may lay their eggs on the foliage.

Without doubt, one of the showiest woodland wildflowers is the Greek Valerian, Polemonium reptans. This is the variety villosum, which was named by Ohio botanist Lucy Braun.

A meadow dappled with brilliant scarlet Indian-paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, is an almost shocking spectacle. It is the bracts (modified leaves) that are colored orange, not the flowers. The latter are inconspicuous and green.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A dash of newt, spotted in red

The tranquil, forest buffered waters of one of several small lakes within Shawnee State Forest. This lake, and the others, plays host to scores of one of our most interesting salamanders. I visited this site last Sunday with John Howard and Mary Ann Barnett and we, quite naturally, spent some time working with these animals, and documenting them on our pixel-making machines.

A Red-spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens, poses nicely on a log (with a little direction from the paparazzi). This animal is probably at least three years old, and could be much older than that. Newts operate in quite the opposite way of most salamanders, which are strictly aquatic when immature, and become landlubbers when adulthood is attained.

In their juvenile stage, which can last several years, Red-spotted Newts look very different than this, and are known as Red Efts. You can see photos and read about efts RIGHT HERE. When the brightly colored eft matures and transforms to an adult newt, it slips into the drink and becomes nearly as aquatic as a fish, as we shall see. On occasion, adult newts make short peregrinations from their pond during wet weather, as this one had done, but for the most part they remain in deep permanent water.

In addition to the red spots on the dorsal (upper) surface, newts are sparsely polka-dotted with black stippling below. In the looks department, these are probably not our flashiest salamander, but newts do have a certain charm to them.

An adult Red-spotted Newt is far more at home in the water than on land (or posed on logs). In this photo, we're peering through a foot or so of water to the bottom of the aforementioned pond. Three newts are visible floating in the water column, and there were far more than this. In just a short stroll along a small part of the shoreline, we must have seen 50 or so. Newts swim like fish, and the rudderlike laterally compressed tail - reminiscent of a muskrat tail - provides efficient propulsion.

Newts can operate with relative impunity in waters such as this, without fear of being preyed upon by voracious fish such as bass or bluegill. Their immunity stems from a toxic chemical defense system. Red-spotted Newts are infused with tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is the same stuff that would have you regretting (briefly) wolfing down a poisonous puffer fish. Apart from a suite of marine animals such as puffer fish, the only other group of animals known to carry TTX are amphibians. About 28 species in 10 genera - frogs, toads, salamanders - have been found to harbor TTX, and to date no antidote has been discovered to combat TTX poisoning. So, please avoid swallowing newts and their attendant neurotoxins. To do so would bring on severe muscular paralysis, and possible death, and neither of those things makes for a good field trip.

We discovered this pair of amorous newts entertwined in the shallows of the pond. It is breeding season for the newts, and the smaller male (presumably the male) has climbed atop the female and has her firmly in his grasp. The females apparently select their mate, and the chosen male will deposit a sperm packet (spermatophore) on the bottom of the pond. Mrs. Newt will then uptake the sperm via her cloaca, and later drop her fertilized eggs.

Newts don't become sexually mature until three years of age, and once adulthood is reached and they're in the breeding ponds, they can probably live a long life. It's possible that newts can live for ten or twenty years, maybe even longer.

Monday, April 22, 2013

An amazing field of purple

Well, well - rejoice! Another "Earth Day" has fallen upon us like a crashing meteor of discarded plastics, and... Wait! I promise not to express cynicism about this day, and all of the environmental posturing that ensues, like I did HERE.
Just remember, every day is Earth Day on this here blog!
While traveling down U.S. Route 52 in southern Ohio during yesterday's epic field trip into the hill country, I was nearly struck dumb by a field of purple. I had to wheel the car around, and visit this spectacularly colorful meadow! It's not that the brightly hued plants were a mystery in need of solving - I knew their identity at 60 mph with a fraction of a glance.

Our botanical protagonist is the lovely Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia. This is the same species that comes up in your yard, too, although probably not in these numbers. The violet is more native here than you or I, and in this case is easily holding its own against the VERY nonnative turf grass. Go, violets!

It was the scope and scale of this violet-covered field that made me detour off the road for an inspection. There were several acres of the plants, and I utterly fail to see how anyone could pass by this scene and not briefly fall into a contemplative revery over the lush lavender-misted meadow.

Your blogger is man enough to lay in a field of flowers. One of the basic rules of nature photography is to try and become one with your subject, and that often means dropping to the ground. I took scores of photos; the potential setups were endless!

This is what the field looks like from the perspective of a native pollinating insect, and many of them were roaming the violet patch.
I will admit to a bias. I generally despise turf grass. We've probably planted,collectively, an area the size of New Jersey of the stuff in this country. For legions of guys, their primary hobby seems to be mowing grass, often into opposing cross-hatched rows. If a purple blotch of a violet, or day-glo yellow dandelion or any other chlorophyll-bearing "alien" dares surface, they are promptly nuked with some of Scott's finest chemical agents of botanical warfare.

Why and how we've developed a turf grass metality is beyond me. The ideal in this grassy world is to create a yard that resembles the emerald felt of a pool table. Then, lurk along its edges just waiting for any other type of plant to surface. When one does, the indignant homeowner runs out and bayonets it with a ramrod full of toxins.

But why? To my eye, the violets in these photos are one million (to the 3rd power) more interesting than a flawless monoculture of grass. I think that most people, at least subconciously, feel the same. If this four acre field were perfectly manicured green grass, I doubt if it would elicit even a comment from the numerous passersby. However, filled with violets as it is, I am sure that I am not the only one that reacts favorably, and I'd bet two irises and a wood betony that others have u-turned and whipped out the camera.

An ornately patterned Meadow Fritillary, of which several were coursing over the violet field. Why? Because their host plants are (drumroll...)... violets! The "frits" that landed themselves in this meadow were like kids in a candy shop. They probably hardly knew where to turn, so overwhelming was the density of the violets that they require to lay eggs upon, and that their caterpillars must chew to grow and morph into these stunning butterflies.

Abutting the colorful meadow was a large lawn, and a quite typical one at that. The landowner has been diligent about purging any and all invaders from his neat turf grass. But if he/she is the one that permitted the adjacent field to run wild with violets, an Earth Day medal to him, I say!

This photo shows, with striking clarity, a very simple change that anyone with a yard can make to truly help the environment. Banish the turf grass mentality, and allow some diversity to creep into the yardscape. Better yet, plow up a good chunk of grass and plant it to native plants. The choices are myriad, and nearly all of our native plants are a million times (to the 3rd power) more beneficial than the nonnative stuff.

In fact, to help get the native plant message across, we started the Midwest Native Plant Conference back in 2009. This year's event will be held on the weekend of July 26, 27 & 28 in Dayton, Ohio. You'll find it to be a treasure trove of information about native plants and the good that they do, courtesy of a fine lineup of expert speakers. Keynoting the 2013 conference is Mr. Native Plant himself, Dr. Doug Tallamy. His book, Bringing Nature Home, has done as much as anything to open people's eyes to the value of conserving and encouraging native plants.

The complete scoop on the Midwest Native Plant Conference is RIGHT HERE. I hope you can make it. We have a blast, and even have some awesome field trips where you can see lots of cool native plants (and animals) with your own eyes. CLICK HERE for registration info.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Unpredictable April

A massive front rolls through, just after dawn this morning at Glacier Ridge Metropark in northwestern Franklin County, Ohio. It was a wintry mid-30's and light snow when I hopped in my car just before daybreak to go check a few local patches. The day broke blue and beautiful once the storm passed, but temps never rose above the mid-40's. Just a few days ago, temperatures were in the 70's and 80's. Such yo-yo weather is typical of Ohio in spring.

A bit of cold and snow didn't deter this freshly arrived House Wren. He probably just got in yesterday or the day before, and is busily proclaiming his turf. From here through May, almost every day will bring a new buffet of neotropical migrants, and migration will reach a crescendo in the first and second week of May. Dust off your binoculars, and get out there!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mountain Chorus Frog

The timing of my trip into Shawnee State Forest last weekend was perfect for catching the short-lived eruption of breeding Mountain Chorus Frogs, Pseudacris brachyphona. This species is far more limited in its distribution in Ohio than is the more familiar Western Chorus Frog, P. triseriata, which occurs nearly statewide. The latter makes a characteristic grating rasp, often said to resemble the sound of a fingernail run down the teeth of a comb.

Mountain Chorus Frogs make more of a short bleating trill - faster and higher-pitched than the Westerns. They also occur in heavily wooded areas and are limited to the unglaciated hill country of southeastern Ohio. I've never heard Mountains and Westerns together, and doubt that their paths would typically cross given the differences in habitat.

The above photo shows a typical Mountain Chorus Frog breeding pond. These frogs are prone to selecting tiny ephemeral pools, often little more than water-filled tire ruts in some cases.

As I cruised the forest roads within Shawnee, the nasal bleating of chorus frogs was a routine part of the soundscape, and finally I had to stop and try and run some down. I caught up with a number of frogs in a tiny puddle, and at the expense of some wet and muddy knees, was able to procure some images. In this image and the following, the mating pair of frogs are about six inches under the water, which was crystal clear.

Like most other frog species, when a large human blunders near the mating pool, all of the frogs go silent and dive into the muck. With a little still and quiet patience, they'll soon pop back out and commence activities. This pair was so enthralled with one another that they never even hid, and I was able to sneak quite close without alarming them. The male (top, obviously) is locked in amplexus with the reddish-brown larger female. Note the length of her toe!

Other frogs in this pool had already mated, and freshly deposited eggs can be seen to the left of the frogs. In short order the egg clusters will expand into large gelatinous masses, and before long the pool will swarm with tiny tadpoles. I suspect that Mountain Chorus Frog tadpoles mature quickly, as many of their breeding pools dry up within a month or so after breeding season.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eastern Red Bat!

An exceptionally serendipitous mammalian find came my way today, in an unlikely place. I had to visit the heart of the sprawling campus of Ohio State University, to speak to Angelika Nelson's ornithology class at Jennings Hall. That was fun, and I got to pontificate about wood-warblers - thanks for having me, Angelika!
On the short walk back to the parking garage following the lecture, a very interesting animal turned up and caused an unexpected delay in my schedule.
I had turned the corner behind Jennings Hall, and was walking towards the parking garage, when I spotted an out-of-place blotch on the building in the foreground. We're looking west down 12th Avenue, and that's part of the OSU medical complex on the left. The parking garage where my car was entombed was just down this street.

Anyway, look closely at the second whitish cement rectangle from the ground on the building in the foreground. To me, it stuck out like a sore thumb, and I knew what I was in for.

A bat! And upon arrival it revealed itself to be an Eastern Red Bat, Lasiurus borealis! This was a fortuitous meeting indeed! All I had on me was my Droid, and I starting clicking off photos with that when it dawned on me that I had the Canon locked in the trunk of my car, not far away.

A minor dilemma ensued, as I was off to west campus next, to meet with Erin, Matt, and Paul - the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas team. I had said I would be over there at 1 pm, and this darned bat was going to throw a wrench in that timing as it'd take a while to go get my gear, return, and make some images.

After a nanosecond of deliberation, it dawned on me that the soon-to-be late meeting was with a bunch of biologists, and who better would understand my excuse for being tardy?! So it was back to the car and the camera was toted back to the bat, who now can appear on the Internet.

Eastern Red Bats are highly migratory, and this one is on its way to points north. They normally don't select such stark surroundings as a roosting spot, and I wished that the animal had done a better job of secreting itself. It was only about seven feet off the ground, and stuck out like a sort thumb against the barren concrete. But with luck, it'll soon be on its way and far from the urban concrete jungle.

Red bats normally hide amongst leaf clusters, such as the long persistent dead brown leaves of American Beech trees. When dangling from a branch, surrounded by old leaves, a red bat is nearly impossible to spot. They are consummate leaf mimics when in repose.

Note the animal's gorgeous burnt-orange pelage, tinted hoary with frosted hair tips. A striking bat indeed. I don't have much experience photographing bats - after all, one doesn't often encounter them, or at least I don't. The relatively few opportunities that I have come across bats in photographable situations, I've found them to be challenging subjects. Bats are just very good at tucking up into an amorphous furry ball, and it can be hard to tell what they are sometimes.

The wrists of the wings are armed with long thumbs tipped with claws, and these, along with the bat's hind toe claws, allow it to effortlessly grip vertical substrates for long periods of time. And my, what big ears she/he has! Its echolocation gear is located in there and the large ears help to gather and concentrate audio feedback. Woe the the moth that gets locked onto a bat's sonar system.

Cute, or no? The former, in my opinion. Bats are without doubt one of our most interesting and valuable groups of mammals, and it was a great - and unexpected - treat to make the aquaintance of this fine looking red bat today. And Erin, Matt, and Paul - sorry for running late, but here's the culprit.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Encounter with a Black Widow!

Last Sunday, I headed off to Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio to do some major exploring, and photography. This was a solo trip, which is a nice thing to do on occasion, as I can click off serious volleys with the camera without irking anyone.
As always happens on such forays, I found plenty of interest - more material than I'll ever get around to blogging, probably. But there were a few serendipitous standout finds, and the one that follows was the King of Finds on this day.
ALERT: This post does involve a spider, for you arachnophobes. But please, have no fear and read on anyway. Pictures don't bite, and this beast, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is one of the coolest looking spiders out there.
The Jetta perches at the entrance to a closed forest road deep within Shawnee. Quick sidebar on the car. This is the second Volkswagen Jetta TDI that I've had, and I want to briefly trumpet the virtues of this vehicle, especially as I suspect many people who read this blog are serious travelers. The TDI Jetta is diesel-powered, and gets phenomenal mileage. On this trip, which is about 100 miles one way, I averaged about 48 miles per gallon. Plus, the car runs at least as clean as a regular gasoline-powered vehicle, has oodles of torque, handles like a sports car, and is full of cool gimickry. Something to consider next time you're car shopping.

Anyway, our story unfolds on the steep bank just behind the car, and just past that yellow gate. I was wandering up the road, and right away saw a Bird's-foot Violet, Viola pedata, in flower. This most beautiful of our violets is running late this spring, and it was the only one that I saw in flower this day. I walked to the plant, and leaned down to clear some grasses from the field of view before making a photo. Just then, a medium-sized beetle buzzed by, and promptly became ensnared in a tangled jumble of spider webbing. I was sort of absently wondering whether the webmaster might be home, as I continued paying the violet some mind.

Suddenly - WOW! Out from the grasses, just a few feet away, waltzed a gorgeous Northern Black Widow, Latrodectes variolus. Needless to say, Viola pedata was quickly forgotten and I focused my attention - and camera - on this seldom seen animal.

The widow was just as cool as you'd ever hope to be. She didn't run wildly to the hapless victim, as some lesser spiders would. She just sort of strutted through the cobwebbing in her own sweet time, while I thanked my lucky stars that such a treat would land right in my lap.

Once she reached the beetle (at least I think it's a beetle; I don't recognize the species), Ms. Widow began the process of binding it with silken strands. By this time, the bug had ceased any struggles; in fact, it quit writhing about before the spider even arrived on the scene. I suspect it had a heart attack when it realized its fate.

By now, I had gingerly worked myself into a prostrate position only a few feet away, and the spider paid me no mind. Fortunately, the Canon already had the 100 mm macro lens bolted on, so I was good to go. In this shot, we're looking at the ventral side (bottom) of the spider. Note that the classic "hourglass" red markings are broken, or disconnected. Our other species, the Southern Black Widow, Latrodectes mactans, has the red markings connected and constricted in the center, and they really do form an hourglass shape. CLICK HERE to see photos of a Southern Black Widow that I encountered a few years back.

In general, these are apparently rather locally distributed spiders in Ohio, and largely confined to the southernmost reaches of the state. Widows probably are not particularly rare, but they're shy and retiring, and often hide in nooks and crannies where they won't be seen.

In this shot, we can see silken strands playing out from her spinnerets. Just aft of the spinnerets is a bright red dash that runs up her back, and the broken hourglass is in front of the spinnerets. Northern Black Widows are apparently often ornamented with red markings on the upper surface, while Southerns rarely are.

By now, she's got a fair bit of webbing around the victim, which is well on its way to mummification. I've said it before and I'll say it now: DO NOT return as an insect. Your fate is not likely to be a pleasant one.

Spiders are incredibly cool, and certainly must rank high among the world's most coordinated animals. Widows make an insensible and sometimes fairly extensive tangle web with no rhyme or reason to it. Yet the spider deftly navigates the webbing - which it laid down of course - while all other comers, if small enough, are quickly stuck fast. Getting up close, like we are in these shots, allows one to really watch the hyper-coordinated finesse with which the spider unravels silk from its spinnerets and routes it into position by using the tips of any of its eight legs.

Finally, after she felt her prey was adequately wrapped, the black widow tugged it through the webbing and to the mouth of her lair, which is that opening just behind her and to the right. She was hiding in there when the beetle hit the web, and its struggles spurred her to action. I happened to glance down just in time to see her emerge from her den, and that started this sequence of observations.

I am a firm believer in never killing something just because it scares you, or you think it somehow unworthy. Even black widows have their place, and they are a fascinating part of our biodiversity. But I'm always flopping to the ground to take photos or study something, and this encounter reminded me to take a more careful look before I go prostrate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

An avalanche of wildflowers!

It's been a long cold winter, and I for one grew quite weary of snow and cold. But rest assured, spring has sprung and I have proof-positive photos. Last Sunday saw me in southernmost Ohio, along the Ohio River, where spring arrives considerably earlier than, say, Cleveland.
Enjoy, and if you live in points north, take hope. Spring is rolling your way.
Ohio's woodlands are increasingly blushed with green, causing some to remark on the embryonic leafout of certain trees as they cast an eye over forestscapes. At least as of yet, it isn't newly emergent leaves that are causing the flush of green - it's the collective flowers of blooming Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum. The individual flowers dangle on lengthy pedicels, as if attached to strings controlled by a marionette hidden in the buds.

This beautiful treelet is a sure sign of spring, and a welcome sight for sore eyes. Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, is just hitting its stride. It's one of the first woody plants in the forest to burst into bloom. Later, the plants will be festooned with sugary berries that are a Cedar Waxwing's addiction.

A bonafide crowd-pleaser, the tiny Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna. This diminutive annual often forms large drifts - carpets, really - and a streamside forest so endowed is an unforgettable spectacle.

Up close and personal, the flowers have a distinctive charm, and should capture the fancy of anyone with a camera.

A much less conspicuous spring wildflower is the Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens. I once came across an old article from an Ohio botanist describing its rarity. Trailing Arbutus is certainly not rare, at least in certain quarters - it's just easy to overlook. The foliage of this trailing heath is evergreen, and by flowering time in early spring the leaves are looking rather ratty and undistinguished. One must move in close and peek under the old leaves to see the flowers, which are often in hiding.

There's no missing this purple stunner. I would say that, architecturally, the flowers of the Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne, are among my favorite. They resemble a witch's hat. This buttercup family representative often grows in profusion in rich woods.

An artful palette of color indeed. The golden flowers of Wood Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, are in the foreground. A wand or two of purple larkspur flowers rise beyond the poppies, and the backdrop is framed with one of our most sensational spring wildflowers.

I visited a steep wooded slope right along the Ohio River that was carpeted blue with Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. Luckily for me, they were in absolute peak bloom - acres of the plants! The window for such eye candy is brief. Bluebells are among our most ephemeral wildflowers, and quickly wither to nothingness after putting on their sensational blue show.

Even individually, a bluebell is a striking plant. Seen in masses of thousands, they are shocking in the best possible way, and herald spring's arrival beyond any doubt.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Yellow Jessamine

Beautiful lianas of lemony-yellow flowers are sure to attract the attention of travelers through the Carolinas and elsewhere in the southeast. This plant is the state wildflower of South Carolina: Yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, sometimes known as Carolina Jasmine. I saw it blooming in profusion on my recent trip to South Carolina, and had to stop to make some images.

The largish tubular flowers suggest Trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans, or to my eye, something in the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae). But the plant belongs to the Logania family (Loganiaceae), which is closely allied to the Figwort Family, and the plant does indeed sometimes go by the name "trumpetflower".

Note the long corolla tube, which sits in a cup of pointed pale green sepals. The anthers are held on long filaments, and extend to the summit of the corolla tube. These blossoms are sweetly fragrant, but very poisonous. All parts of the plant are said to be infused with strychnine alkaloids, especially the nectar. Even handling the foliage can allegedly cause minor dermatitis, so it's best to take a hand's-off approach with this plant.

As I moved around taking photos, it didn't take long to realize that large carpenter bees (thanks Randy Mitchell for the ID!) were important pollinators of Yellow Jasmine. The large fuzzy insects were everywhere and rapidly darting from flower to flower.

The bees quickly entered the cuplike flowers and pushed to the base of the blossom where the nectaries, presumably, are located. Their visits were incredibly rapid, however - usually the bee would be in and out of a flower in two seconds or so.

Given the brevity of their visits, I had to wonder if the toxicity of the nectar is something that the bees can only marginally tolerate, and must gather in small doses. Probably not, though, seeing how many visits the animals would make to various flowers. Each bee certainly gathered an impressive amount of nectar (and pollen) over the course of their collective visits.

In order to access the sweet stuff, the bee must dive headfirst deep into the flower. This act forces its fuzzy body into contact with the anthers and pollen, and with its next visit to a flower, it'll rub some of that pollen off on the flower's stigma, thus cross-pollinating the plants.

A perfect fit. It would seem that large bumblebees, carpenter bees and Yellow Jessamine were made for one another, and they probably are. Coevolution of plants and animals is a very cool thing.