While I was working on a new video in the longleaf pine savannahs of North Carolina’s coastal plain, I came across this beautiful little pine woods tree frog hunkered down inside of a yellow pitcher plant. This landscape never ceases to amaze me; the beauty of the savannahs, the exotic nature of the carnivorous plants that call this place home, and the network of species that eke out a living here.
Though Venus flytraps get all the attention in this place, the far more ubiquitous pitcher plant is just as extraordinary. This species collects water which it then excretes digestive enzymes into. Lured in by smell and or the prospect of fresh water, insects will clamor down into the pitcher plant only to be trapped once inside. Some species have such a slippery wall that insects cannot climb back up. Others have patches of see-through walls that let light in, which insects will spend days trying to get through, to no avail, before falling back into the digestive brew where they are then slowly consumed.
None of this goes unnoticed by the other denizens of the savannahs and poccosin. Other species have learned to take advantage of this situation. That’s the beauty of nature and evolution. Let there be a niche to exploit, and life will always find a way.
For the pine woods tree frog, the pitcher plant often plays double duty for its survival. As mentioned above, insects are lured in to these things by smell. All the frog has to do is sit and wait for dinner to arrive. This much is straightforward, but it gets even more interesting.
At first glance, you would think that the frog is parasitising resources from the pitcher plant. However, this frog actually helps facilitate the transfer of nutrients into the plant through its own waste after the meal. The pitcher plant doesn’t need the frog, and the frog doesn’t need the pitcher plant to survive, however, when they work together, there is a synergy in their efforts in which both benefit from this symbiotic relationship.
To take this all a step further, right now eastern North Carolina is experiencing a drought. Amphibians such as our little frog here need humidity and regular access to water and moisture to survive. So, what we find here is a frog that is also taking shelter inside of the pitcher plant for the water and humidity it needs to make a living, until the rains come. This means that the pitcher plant itself also functions as a keystone species during times of environmental stress for those species that have learned to take advantage of them, all the while benefiting from the frog who is processing the insects beforehand, making nutrients easier to absorb.
This is the stuff that blows my mind about the world around me and it’s the fodder for my own passion to never stop exploring and learning.
The next issue of the Photographer's Journal will feature introduction to creating images like you see in this video with the use of a single flash. Most nature photographers shy away from using flash. Truth be told, there is probably no other topic that creates more confusion than this. I plan to show you how to master flash like a professional.
Check out the You Tube video here.
Jared is a photographer with a passion for wildlife. More specifically, he is a professional wildlife photographer, nature writer, environmental photojournalist, outdoor educator, workshop leader and human. Currently, living in Jackson Hole Wyoming – the epicentre of wildlife photography in North America.