Reader’s photos and readers’ wildlife pictures

October 2, 2019 • 7:45 am

We’re combining these features today because naturalist and biologist Lou Jost, who works in Ecuador with the Fundacion Ecominga, sent me photos that could qualify for both. Lou’s captions are indented.

Our Ecuadorian reserves have lots of new species of plants (that’s why we established them), but it takes work to find them. In 2014 a student group led by Drs John Clark and David Neill discovered two mysterious species of Magnolia trees in our Rio Zunac Reserve. These were each later described as new species (M. vargasiana and M. llanganatensis) by Magnolia specialist Dr Antonio Vazquez. We were tremendously excited by these discoveries of such dramatic, spectacular trees. Another species which lives in and around our Manduriacu reserveM. chiguila with huge flowers, was described in 2016.
M. vargasiana, male phase:

M. vargasiana, female phase:
M. chiguila:
A few years later one of our reserve guards, Fausto Recalde, found a Magnolia tree in the Rio Zunac Reserve that did not seem to match either of the two new species. We needed a closer look at the flowers. But the tree had a long unbranched trunk which could not be climbed. My solution was to use tree-climbing techniques I learned in the 1980s: a bow and arrow to launch a fishing line over the tree, which can then be used to pull up a succession of thicker lines, ending with climbing rope.
The tree to be climbed:

The picture of me shooting the Magnolia tree accidentally captured the exact millisecond when I released the arrow. The arrow is just a long blur.

These neotropical Magnolia species are nocturnal: their flowers open only at dusk for a few hours, then close again until the next night, when they open more fully and then disintegrate the next day. The first night they are functionally female, with receptive stigmas. They attract and capture beetles, trapping them inside the flower for the rest of the night and the following day. During that time the stigmas wither and the anthers ripen, releasing pollen that soon covers the trapped beetles. Then in the evening, when female flowers of other trees begin to open, the now functionally male flower opens wide and releases the pollen-covered beetle, which may then enter a female flower somewhere and pollinate it.
Magnolia vargasiana with pollinator:
Once I was up in this tree, I collected a few flower buds and branches, and we put them in water and huddled around them at our campsite. As dusk fell, the buds began to open, and we witnessed the flowers for the first time. Eventually I got some buds back to my house and lab, where I could photograph them properly. Fulbright scholar Alyssa Kullberg later spent nine months in our reserves mapping the distributions of our Magnolias, and we now lean towards the theory that this form may be a hybrid between the other two new species of Magnolias. The two newly-described species are more or less separated by elevation, and are morphologically very distinct. This third form is morphologically intermediate and much rarer. Unlike the two described species, it hasn’t ever been found growing alone in pure stands; it is always growing as scattered individuals among much larger populations of one of the other species. Genetic analysis will resolve this question, we hope.
The putative hybrid:

45 thoughts on “Reader’s photos and readers’ wildlife pictures

  1. As my British colleagues say “Brilliant!” Very informative. Thank you for sharing the photographs & information.

  2. Beautiful, and a particularly bad-ass shot of your good self too. That is a very cool looking bow. How much does one of those things cost?

        1. The price of compound bows is all over the place…cheap ones are around $100, but they can range up to $900. I’d say the average cost for a decent compound bow is $350. I used to do recreational compound and re-curve bow target practice. Nowadays, the bows can be very technical with all sorts of bells and whistles. Lou’s and the one I used to use are very straight forward.
          Here’s a good example of a modern bow with all the trimmings.

          1. I laughed out loud when I saw that thing…it’s completely mental. Turn it on its side and it looks more like a drone than a bow and arrow.

            Still, my caveman id kind of wants one.

  3. Very interesting about a type of tree found only in the southern states I think. I wonder, do you use insect repellent in the jungle?

    1. Thanks. I have only been in the tropics of such places as Guam, Philippines and Okinawa but had no need for it there either.

      1. Mr. Schenk, I too have spent time in all three of those places, my only tropical experiences. Were you in the Navy by any chance? I do recall, however, that bamboo groves were almost unbearable due to mosquitoes.

  4. Thanks for this. I love hearing about the ingenious and fantastical ways plants figure out how to manipulate animals. Some of the Orchid family have taken that strategy to amazing ends.

  5. I like the combo of reader photo and wildlife photos. Also nice to know that among us is someone shooting arrows in a forest in Ecuador!

  6. Bonus post! Seriously, this is really fantastic stuff. Great ingenuity to get those flowers. I’m sure you’ll let Jerry know (and vicariously the Readers) what the genetic analysis reveals. From your own sleuthing, it does seem like there is a high probability that you found a hybrid.

  7. Mr. Schenk, I too have spent time in all three of those places, my only tropical experiences. Were you in the Navy by any chance? I do recall, however, that bamboo groves were almost unbearable due to mosquitoes.

  8. Cool, a magnolia post! My predecessor here @ Schwixon was quite fond of magnolias, presumably from his time as a Resident at Duke U, and so I have six different species planted here outside Pittsburgh, including two grandifloras that don’t know they’re not supposed to be growing fairly well here. The rest are dediduous, including one cucumber tree. Dixon, my predecessor, loved telling the story of going to a nursery in search of one (which I’d never heard of up till then). Kid comes out and asks if he can help him. “Yes, I’m looking for a cucumber tree.” “Oh, sir, cucumbers don’t grow on trees.”

  9. There is a Magnolia dixonii here in Ecuador! It is critically endangered and is only known from the type specimen collected in 1965. No living plants are known. Maybe your predecessor was the one who collected it.

    1. No worries, just saw your reply. Very interesting – I’d never heard of it, but I haven’t really gotten the magnolia species down. Dixon would’ve been in med school in ’65 and anyway only collected butterflies in NC, so far as I’m aware.

      If you’re ever in Pittsburgh with nothing better to do, I’d be happy to show you what I have and hear something about them.

    2. But now you have me curious, and also somewhat confused. If no known living plants, wouldn’t it be extinct and not just endangered?

      But if there are extant examples, as a web search suggests, incl one pic of a flower, Is there any possibility that one of mine might be dixonii? It would be very cool if one was. I’m sure Dixon would’ve known about the species, and there are two here that might be candidates just by the flower.

      1. No, it is an Ecuadorian species, no chance that there is one in the US.

        It is very hard to prove something is extinct, especially when there are large unexplored forests in mountainous regions, as we have here.

        Sometimes when botanists speak of “known” plants, they refer to actual specimens in herbaria. It is quite possible that someone has seen a Magnolia dixonii since the type collection, but it doesn’t enter the scientific record until there is a voucher specimen. Otherwise the ID cannot be checked. Of course a good photos can also serve this purpose.

        Anyway, I see now that there is one good record on iNaturalist. That one is identified by Antonio Vazquez, the same expert who described our two species. This is a new find, not included in his book on the Magnolias of Ecuador, which was the reference I used for my observation that none had been seen since the original collection. Thanks for bringing that to my attention!

        1. Thanks for the many insights you’ve given me through this post and your comments. You and Bruce Dixon would have found much of mutual interest.

          I also just watched your orchid talk on YouTube, which was fascinating, and also uplifting at the end with the Ecuadorean workers and their comments.

  10. Thank you for a very interesting post! I am aware that Victoria amazonica uses a similar strategy — opens in the evening, captures beetles, sinks under the water before emerging again the next night to liberate the beetles covered in pollen. I don’t know if the flowers change sex, but it seems likely that they would do so. How common is this strategy?

  11. Wonderful post. I’m curious, how specific is the relationship between the beetle and the magnolia? Are there many beetle species that will pollinate, or is it like the fig where one a few can get the job done?

    1. All the pollinators we saw belonged to one small group of beetles, the “flea beetles” with strong jumping rear legs. So it seems the interaction is very specific. I forgot to mention in my text that when they open, these flowers generate an incredibly strong beautiful exotic smell, a mix of pineapples and other tropical fruits. This seems to appeal to specific beetles. However,the mechanism is not very complex and I think any beetle that arrived would do the job.

  12. We have a really tall tree in our neighborhood in Maryland that looks a lot like the tall magnolia tree in the photo. The tree in our neighborhood has a long bare trunk, and a cluster of leaves at the top. I’m sure it’s not some exotic species, but I never thought about the possibility of it being a magnolia tree. The magnolia trees around here are generally much shorter.

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