Adapt: Wild Art 2021 – March

As part of the Wild Art 2021 March Challenge, put on by Zoe Keller, I illustrated two pieces focusing on the theme, “Adapt”. While some artists focused on nocturnal animals and their unique adaptations, others focused on marine species that live in the depths! Each month, I am going to focus on two pieces – one highlighting flora, the other highlighting fauna.

If you’re wondering about plants that have developed special adaptations – the orchids are amazing examples! Orchid flowers are often highly adapted to their specific pollinators, and what pollinates one orchid, may not pollinate another due to the unique structure of the flower itself. One example of a unique floral adaptation is the Coryanthes macrantha, the Bucket Orchid. This flower looks like a strange, alien pitcher. The front of the pitcher fills with liquid. When bees come to pollinate the flower, they fall into the liquid. The only way for them to get out is to travel through a small tube in the back of the flower. As the bee crawls through, the orchid deposits a small pollen sac on the bee’s back, which the bee then takes to the next orchid it visits!

In the Phalaenopsis orchid (illustrated here), orchid bees are the primary pollinator. These bees have adapted a very long tongue (as compared to other bees), which makes it easy to collect the nectar hidden deep within this orchid. The Phalaenopsis orchid also has a lip (the magenta portion of the flower here) that acts as a landing pad to allow the bee to rest before it flies on to the next orchid!

Not all adaptations are designed to be “attractive” or helpful for other species. In fact, some can be deceptive and prevent certain interactions! Mimicry is an adaptation where one animal (or plant!) looks like another in order to protect themselves from predation. Pipevine Swallowtails are toxic to many predators, due to their diets. As caterpillars and adults, they thrive on a plant called Pipevine (hence the butterfly’s name), which contains a toxin called aristolochic acid. When a predator eats the caterpillar or the adult, they are poisoned in turn. Red Spotted Purples, a completely edible butterfly, has similar spotting and coloration to the Pipevine Swallowtail in order disguise themselves! They don’t want to be eaten by predators, so they look like the other to to trick predators into thinking that they are actually toxic.

What adaptation would you have if you could? Would you look like something else to hide or blend in? Would you be especially attractive? Would you have a specialized body part that helps perform some sort of unique function (like opposable thumbs or a prehensile tail)?

Stay tuned next month to learn more about how both plants and animals are able to store information and remember the past with the “Memory” theme!

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