A few years ago I happened to read and article in Smithsonian magazine about Venus flytraps. It mentioned the Green Swamp in southeastern North Carolina as one of the best places to go to see them in their native habitat. In fact, the area around Wilmington, North Carolina (and into South Carolina) is the only place the plants natively grow.
This year was our third visit to the Green Swamp, managed by The Nature Conservancy. Last year it had been very hot and very dry and was not as rich an experience as the year before. This year was another good one. It has been a very warm summer but it has also rained enough that there was a lot to see.
Drosera sp. (Sundew)
Milesia virginiensis (Yellowjacket Hover Fly)
Dionaea muscipula (Venus Flytrap)
Sarracenia purpurea (Purple Pitcher Plant)
Libytheana carinenta (American Snout)
Peucetia viridans (Green Lynx Spider)
I’ll start with the sundews. There are a number of Drosera species and those we found were just off the parking area beside the partially dried pond. They are small and if you were not looking for them, you might not notice them at all. An entire plant is only a few inches across and tall and the red hairs that hold the drops of mucilage are not obvious against the dark earth. Once you know what to look for and where to look, however, they are easily found. Getting a good picture isn’t all that easy and basically means lying on the damp ground. Still, I’m please with what I got.
My next image is a yellowjacket hover fly (Milesia virginiensis). Between areas of long-leaf pine savanna are pocosins, or shrub bogs. In one of these we came upon this fly, which I mistook for a wasp of some sort at first, until I realized it only had two wings (order Diptera, the flies, literally means “two wings”). In fact, this fly mimics the southern yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa). It was fairly dark under the trees so this isn’t as sharp a picture as I’d like.
The third picture is what brought us to the Green Swamp in the first place. We didn’t see Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) at all last year. I assume they were still here but with the drought, they were not nearly as obvious. Also we walked a different route, which may have been the reason. In any case, these are pretty hard to spot until you know what to look for. They are small, only a couple inches across, and blend in well with the other vegetation. Just after we found these, we met another couple who were walking back out and who hadn’t seen any. We pointed them out and they were glad to have met us.
In the open traps on this plant you can see reddish spots, which is where the tiny trigger hairs are located. Two trigger hairs must be touched in succession or one hair touched twice in rapid succession before the trap will close. Once it closes on an insect, the insect is digested, which provides nitrogen for the plant growing in this nitrogen- and phosphorus-poor environment.
I really like the pitcher plants in the Green Swamp. There are at least two species here. This photo is of the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea). This plant has short pitchers, only about four inches tall, but their dark color makes them fairly easy to spot. They also have flower stalks that are about a foot and a half tall. In this photo you can see the water that has collected in the pitcher on the right as well as the hairs on the upper portion to “guide” insects downward into the trap. Since these are so happy here in the hot south, I find it interesting that the other place we have seen pitcher plants growing is in Newfoundland.
I’ll finish with a couple insects. First is an American snout butterfly (Libytheana carinenta, one of the brushfooted butterflies, Nymphalidae). It perched nicely for me on the panicle of a small shrub. I actually got some closer images but its snout was hidden behind one of the flowers. In this image you can see, if you look carefully, the coiled proboscis.
Finally, but not least by any means, is the Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans). They are fairly easy to find in the Green Swamp. All you have to do is look for a yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) and there is a good chance one of these beauties will be waiting atop the operculum (the cap over the pitcher).
They are a little shy so if you touch the pitcher they are liable to run away, but they will generally come back fairly quickly. Also, there are enough of them that if you want a good picture you shouldn’t have too much trouble. These pitcher plants are a foot or 18 inches tall, making them perfect for photographing the spiders.
I did actually get some pictures that are a bit closer than this, including some where the spider didn’t quite fit in the frame, but I thought this image was more illustrative. They are such a beautiful green color and so fierce looking with their spiny legs. The lynx spider doesn’t spin a web but is a hunting spider, catching insects that are drawn to the pitcher plant on which it lives. They are not only found on pitcher plants, but live in lots of other areas but this is the only place I have seen them. They are certainly well suited to it.