|Heliothis phloxiphaga eating a flower bud of Aquilegia eximia, the serpentine or sticky columbine. Lake County, CA.|
|As the floral color polymorphism was not in the experimental population, I didn't notice it until the end of the summer, and gathered some, but not enough, data on it. Lake County, CA.|
|A Hoplinus nymph (probably the most important predator in the system) approaches an |
|Dead Hymenoptera on columbine (I may be giving up entomologist credentials, but I am not sure whether it is a wasp or an ant alate).|
So this became a story - perhaps logically - that the plants were somehow attracting insects to kill and feed to the beneficial predators on their surfaces (retaining their services). I presented this work in a talk at a little student conference at Davis during recruitment weekend and played with several ways to frame the story. The first was to be rather dry - columbines attract insects and control a tritrophic defense (or something along those lines). Instead, I thought long and hard about trying to make a metaphor (socialism - a worker's paradise for the predatory bugs or a Roman bread and circus type thing, but they didn't really work) and while I don't remember how I came up with this - I settled on the sirens, figures of classical mythology who lured sailors to their deaths. I therefore framed it as these poor insects - innocent sailors of the California air - are somehow drawn to their deaths on the columbines. Of course, the columbines put the insects to good use in their defense, leaving open the question - which I am sure classical mythologists lose much sleep over - what did the sirens do with their collection of dead sailors?
|Serpentine columbines in flower. Lake County, CA.|
Eric F. LoPresti, Ian Seth Pearse, and Grace K. Charles In press. The siren song of a sticky plant: columbines provision mutualist arthropods by attracting and killing passerby insects. Ecology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/15-0342.1