Wednesday, July 25, 2012

horse flies sucking nectar

horse flies sucking nectar 
from the prickly white balls
of Rattlesnake Master

Few flowers dare to bloom in this prolonged high heat and drought, but Rattlesnake Master is one of them. This odd member of the Carrot family looks more like some kind of desert plant with its long, strappy leaves and prickly balls of flowers. But it is actually a tallgrass prairie species with a deep root that helps protect it from drought, as well as an unusual flower arrangement adapted to heat and dry conditions. At the top of a long stalk, the plant divides into short stems ending in whitish green balls consisting of many small white flowers surrounded by prickly bracts. The flowers bloom in mid- to late summer and emit a strong honey-like scent in bright sunlight. Native Americans used the dry seedheads as rattles. Pioneers may have associated the rattle with rattlesnakes because they believed, erroneously, that the root could be used as an antidote for rattlesnake bite.
          Pollinators are equally hard-pressed to find nectar-bearing flowers, so it's not surprising that some of them are attracted to Rattlesnake Master. When I stop to watch some large, black insects crawling all over the white flower balls of a small patch of Rattlesnake Master, I am surprised that these pollinators are not Dark bees. Their fat black bristle-bottom bodies are unlike a bee's elongated body, and their broad face and large horizontal eyes do not look anything like a bee's heart-shaped face and angular eyes. With a start I recognize them -- Horse flies -- and I take a few steps back. From my past experience with Horse flies, they will bite painfully, usually on the back of the neck, and will suck blood. However, these Horse flies seem oblivious to my bare neck and arms, so I conclude that they are not the vampire females but rather the nectar- and pollen-feeding males. I step up for a few closeup photos and the docile males just continue busily sucking nectar.

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