Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stinky Flower Mystery Solved! Also, The Moths Are STEALING YOUR TEARS!!!


Courtesy of Jeremy Holden

Fun from the NYT's Tuesday Science section:

A spurge that smells like death
Rafflesia arnoldii is no shrinking violet. At up to three feet in diameter, it’s the world’s largest flower. It’s also possibly the most repulsive — it looks and smells like rotting flesh (the better to attract flies, which act as pollinators).

But while Rafflesia may be easy to describe, it has been much harder to classify. It’s a parasite, embedding itself in vines in the understory of pristine rainforests in Indonesia, and it lacks the roots, stems, leaves and photosynthesizing machinery that would give scientists a clue as to its evolutionary background.

(...)

...Dr. [Charles C.] Davis and colleagues have done more genetic research to solve the puzzle. Their conclusion, published online by the journal Science, is that the Rafflesiaceae, as this family of species is known, are nestled within the spurge family, which includes rubber plants, castor, cassava and poinsettia. “They are smack dab in the middle,” Dr. Davis said.

In some ways this is a surprise, because spurges are so well known. On the other hand, Dr. Davis said, the Rafflesiaceae “are so off on their own trip that their position within any group would require some explaining.”

(...)

“These plants flower in understory rainforest environments, which are dimly lit, so they are not easily seen by pollinators,” Dr. Davis said. “They would have had incredible incentive to increase their surface area, to maximize odor production and bring in these pollinators.”

Beware the moths, especially if you're a sad clown

Moths and butterflies obtain moisture wherever they can find it — in Africa, Asia and South America, even from the tears of mammals and reptiles. But until now, no moth or butterfly has been seen drinking tears from a bird.

Roland Hilgartner of the University of Ulm in Germany and colleagues observed a species of moth in Madagascar, Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica, that alights on the neck of a sleeping magpie or Newtonia bird and sticks its long proboscis between the bird’s closed eyelids. Moths were observed in this position for 30 minutes or longer, presumably drinking the bird’s tears. The finding was reported in Biology Letters.

The moth’s proboscis is about half an inch long (about half the moth’s length), with a sharp point and many tiny spines and barbs. The researchers suggest that it functions somewhat like a harpoon, because it has to go not only between upper and lower eyelids, but also through the bird’s nictitating membrane, which further protects the eyes.

Beaks? Moths with beaks?

10 comments:

charley said...

hey, it reminds me of the Weird Orange Thing.

and now i know to look up spurges. thanx.

Thers said...

I like that the scientist said the flowers were "off on their own trip."

Grooooovy.

Eli said...

and now i know to look up spurges. thanx.

I thought it was interesting that "spurge" sounded so much like "surge", given the flower's... characteristics.


I like that the scientist said the flowers were "off on their own trip."

Yeah, I just had to include that...

charley said...

i don't think my thing is a spurge.

which is apparently a word meant to sound like purge, you know, for like those plants the hippies like to imbibe to cleanse the system.

i used to have castor plants. eat one seed you're dead.

four legs good said...

Ooooh. I feel a sci-fi movie coming on.

Imagine a genetically engineered moth that escapes a lab, grows to enormous size and then sucks peoples eyeballs out with it's spiny beak!!

And it would leave that nasty smelling flower on the corpse!!!

Genius!!

(okay, I got nuthin)

Eli said...

The Mothman Probosces.

HopeSpringsATurtle said...

I know someone just like that moth...

Interrobang said...

Charley's Weird Orange Thing is probably a Clathrus columnatus, or squid stinkhorn fungus, as shown here. I knew I'd seen something similar before.

Eli said...

I know someone just like that moth...

I'm not sure I want to know the answer to this...


Charley's Weird Orange Thing is probably a Clathrus columnatus, or squid stinkhorn fungus, as shown here.

Oh yeah, I think you're right.

charley said...

Charley's Weird Orange Thing is probably a Clathrus columnatus,

thankyou, thankyou, interrobang. clearly this is it.