Thursday, July 12, 2007

Are ants the least of our brethren?

While their older brother, sisters and cousins were "peeling" across the Caribbean Sea on a banana boat, Devon and Ryan were overjoyed to learn that they would get to visit the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve near Tulum to learn about the different ecosystems of the Yucatan peninsula. They bounded with unbridled joy from our adorable beach cabana to wait in the heat and humidity for the tour van.

Our open-air boat motored quickly through canals used by the ancient Mayans as well as various lagoons, our guide stopping periodically to point out birds or plants that might be of interest to us. One particularly engaging stop was for the banana orchid.

The banana orchid is an epiphyte, a plant that lives on another plant without damaging its host as a parasite would. The banana orchid's pseudo-bulbs (the banana-y looking things) play host to nests of stinging ants. The ants feed on the nectar of the orchid and protect the plant from other insects and pollinate it in return. An endless parade of ants marched up and down the stem of the orchid, ignoring us as we all smelled the slight scent of banana surrounding the blooms.

Amazingly, a nearly identical species of banana orchid is endemic to the Cayman Islands. Still an epiphyte, but living on different trees and aided in pollination by the tree itself. Nary an ant in sight.

To me this is an astounding example of adaptation and the bounty of the natural world. I guess every living thing strives to survive, no matter the circumstance, and hopes for a little cooperation from its fellow beings. There is no right way. No singular path. We can hammer out a workable existence using the resources that surround us.

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