Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ant Orchids - two species? Maybe - a few metres apart.

"Ant Orchids" will be the death of me (and I am not mocking Duncan's words of wisdom from yesterday) - about other people knowing where a solitary naturalist has disappeared, in search of an Orchid, or something else of interest. The advice he was given is good advice.

These tiny flowers are so hard to see, and then, even harder to photograph. These are half-way down Macquarie Pass, hidden amongst dead branches, ferns, mosses and long grass, in an old clearing. even when you know to look for them, they are hard to see, and then their is the question of identifying them.

I long for the day (and this is the stuff of science fiction, I am sure) when one can insert a tiny probe into the leaf of the plant, and get a genetic (or should I say, a DNA) read-out which would tell me exactly which species I am looking at. And when that is available for these plants, then lets work on the Caladenias, and then the Greenhoods (Pterostylis group). And then the Persoonias, then then the myriad of "Eggs and Bacon" flowers, and then,,,,,,
Dream on, Denis.

This first flower is a definite identification : Myrmechila formicifera (Chiloglottis formicifera)
Note how the small glands extend all the way down to the tip of the labellum. This is quite a large image, and will open up well if you click on the photo. The detail is amazing. Contrast this image with the image of a different plant two below - possibly another species.Here is the same flower - from the side - showing the glands (pseudo-insect) and the steep angle of the labellum (the large section of the flower in front).
This is possibly a member of another related species - Myrmechila (Chiloglottis) trapeziformis. Note how the labellum of this plant is almost plain. But it does just have a few little tiny "bubbles" - so possibly, just possibly, this is an individual variation, rather than a different species. (Thus ruining my original title for this post).

I will reserve judgement on whether or not it is a separate species. The dorsal sepal is held higher than in the other flower, but again that might be a simple variation between individuals. My problem is simple. There was only one specimen of this flower out there, today. If I had found lots of them, all the same, I would know I was on safer ground declaring it to be a different species from the other plant.This front-on shot (below), is mostly of interest for the very small spider which ran up its web (on the right hand side of the flower) while I was lying down taking lots of shots (to ensure I got something in focus). It was a very small-bodied Spider, and as you can see (if you click to enlarge the image) it has quite long legs, which are banded in alternate dark and light coloured sections.

Spiders love Orchids, as they know that insects are attracted to the Orchid flower, and so Spiders hang out near the orchids - waiting for lunch. In this heavily cropped image (below) it resembles a "Daddy Long-legs", but in real size, it was considerably smaller than that, and its legs were so fine that they were virtually invisible (to my poor eyes, lying in the grass, in a dark rainforest). Its body (head and abdomen) were less than the size of a match-head. The whole flower is approximately 1 cm - (from tip to base). The "column" - the vertical part of the flower is said to be about 3mm wide (according to the books). That makes the spider a mere 3mm long, in body. That seems about right to me. Here is the same image, cropped, cut and rotated to make it easier to recognise. It appears to have relatively large white palps underneath what appears to be fairly large, dark eyes.One piece of good news is that these particular plants flower in winter/spring, whereas their autumn cousins flower when the weather is warmer, and therefore, when lying (prone) on the grass attracts great numbers of leeches and/or ticks. At least, at this time of year, I do not have to worry about those Creepy-Crawlies.

Here is something easier - a plant which exactly matches the text books. Pterostylis hildae the so-called "Rainforest Greenhood".
You can see what I mean about it "looking how it is meant to be":
This is the botanical sketch on the RBG PlantNET page. (No artist credit shown.)
It is on its southern limit here, being shown as extending from Wollongong (just north from Macquarie Pass) to Queensland.
This is a perfectly formed flower. How nice is that? It hasn't been chewed by some slug or snail, or trampled by a clumsy Wombat, or dug up by a passing Lyrebird.


Mosura said...

Love those Ant Orchids! I was getting all motivated to go and find one but according to my trusy, "Orchids of Tasmania" we don't get any here. Probably a good thing as with my eyes I wouldn't be able to see them anyway. That second one may end up being Myrmechila wilsonii WIlson 2008

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks for the nice thought, Mosura.
It is not a "new" species, just not sure if it is the other one, or not. Lack of supporting evidence, is the problem.
I have found a few Ground Orchids which are not yet "described", but the experts know about them already, just have not had enough time (enough lives) to write up all the different species. The more they look, the more they find. That old problem.
Still it is exciting.
My favourite is the Greenhood. That pair of photos is as good as I will ever get. Just a perfectly formed specimen, good exposure, good detail. I shall have to get it printed up and framed. I am really happy with both images.
Ant Orchids are really weird, though. If you know about pseudo-copulation - they just about wrote the book on the pollination of these little flowers. Very specialised.


PS, the "old" books call them "Chiloglottis" - so check that name out.

Mosura said...

Chiloglottis - Oh well in that case we have 8 of them. I better get looking.

pseudo-copulation - Yeah - I watched a great documentary years ago called "Sexual Encounters of the Floral kind". It had some great footage of all that kind of hanky panky between wasps and orchids etc.

Tsun-Thai Chai said...

Just curious. What's in those glands?

Philip Estenson said...

I never heard of this orchid and I've heard of a lot of orchids. Great article and very in depth. The photos are great too. Thanks for sharing.
Phillip Estenson

Gouldiae said...

G'day Denis,
I agree, that Greenhood is a beautifully formed specimen. Nice entry and great shots. I'm glad you didn't have to fight off the leeches etc. Aren't 'mind pictures' wonderful?

Duncan said...

You've just confirmed that I am indeed old, Denis, my books call them chiloglottis ;-)

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks everyone.
Mosura, I did check Chil. trapeziformis, and it said Wynyard, Tas. Is that near you?
Duncan - We are all "old". The trick is to still keep breathing! I regret that there is a lot of politics in the Orchid world, and whether or not you agree with the new names seems to depend upon which camp you are in. The RBG (Sydney Bot. Gdns) people refuse to accept the new names. Victorians are more in tune. I woulod hate to suggest it ccomes down to parochialism. I am sure they would justify their position on genetics, or something, but there you go. I always refer to both names.
Chai I( am not sure, but it looks like a soft jelly, and obviously it produces highly specialised scent, mimicking the pheremones of female wasps - that's the trick which attracts the male wasps to attempt o "mate" with the flower. Hence the phrase "pseudo-copulation" to which I referred in my first reply to Mosura.
Philip You are not likely to see these little guys in florist shops. Greenhoods are popular with specialist growers (even outside Australia), but not so much the Ant Orchids. I would remind readers that the right place for these Orchids is out in the bush, where Nature put them.
Gouldiae Thanks for the comment on "mind-pictures". That's why I like to write, as well as post pictures.
everybody No-one took any notice of my tiny spider. I was hoping for a "bite"!!!

Mosura said...

Ah - In York Street Reserve, Wynyard. Flowering period starts in August here. I have made a note to go and have a look. Thanks for that.

Denis Wilson said...


In a few days I will post some photos of their leaves on the ground - to show what to look for. Quite distinctive (as a genus).
That's what you have to look for, firstly, then peer for the tiny, dark flowers on 3 inch stems.
Best of luck.

Mosura said...

Thanks - I will keep an eye out for your post.