Tag Archives: Yes we’ve got a video

New Developments and Upcoming Events

The COVID-19 shutdown of Dallas art events continues, and with it, a lot of events throughout the rest of Texas. The complete dissolution of shows for 2020 has been rough, but it could be worse (I really feel for the art galleries stiffed by the Dallas Art Fair, even considering that the combination of “Dallas real estate developer” and “wannabe world-class art fair” always promises a world of madcap fun), and the only thing we can do is be proactive about it. Hence, while things are quiet outside, it’s time to tear things up indoors.

Firstly, while the cliche “one door closes while another opens” is especially overused in Dallas (where it’s usually applied in reference to “the real estate developer who just ripped you off has friends who’d like to take advantage of your naive faith in human nature”), sometimes it applies. The collapse of the Pier 1 retail empire hit home hard, as a very dear friend was at ground zero at its Fort Worth headquarters when the announcement went out, but it also gave an opportunity for a serious gallery renovation. Combine heavy-duty Lundia shelving (with additional support in the center of each shelf) with a massive fixture sale at a nearby Pier 1 location, and this means that a long-planned Triffid Ranch renovation happens right when traffic is slow. Everybody wins. Keep an eye open for further updates, because by the time the upgrade is done, you won’t recognize the place.

In other news, everybody who already had plans to attend the rescheduled Texas Frightmare Weekend horror convention at DFW Airport already knows: the planned September 11-13 show was bumped to next May. The news was depressing on multiple levels, mostly because of the number of us who actively look forward to Frightmare every year, as attendees and as vendors. The only good news out of that justified and justifiable cancellation is that the Frightmare crew continue to keep their virtual schedule extremely busy with the regular Frightmare HQ video streams. I bring this up because on Saturday, September 12, the Triffid Ranch goes live with what everyone would have seen had we been able to come out for the weekend. To quote a mutual inspiration and Dallas icon, you’ll boogie ’til you puke. Just pick your favorite streaming video flavor, and we and the plants will see you on September 12.

“YES, WE’VE GOT A VENUS FLYTRAP!”

To belay the 1500 E-mails, text messages, and smoke signals that any mention of carnivorous plants in the news brings on, the science fiction site io9 did a very good job of high-grading Dr. Barry Rice’s discussion on whether venus flytraps can digest human flesh. The io9 article doesn’t include anything that Dr. Rice’s discussion didn’t already have, but as can be expected, everyone will link to the copy instead of the original. And so it goes, and I take it as strange confirmation that someone at io9 is reading this blog.

No, the interesting part should be reading the comments on the io9 article, and the fact that the commenters didn’t take advantage of a great resource on raising carnivores. Instead of general kvetching about how “I had a Venus flytrap, but it died,” they could have been poking around on sarracenia.com and possibly learning why their flytraps died. (Or, judging by one comment, learning that flytraps go dormant during the winter, so that presumably dead flytrap is just waiting for the spring.) That, right there, explains why so many of us are so passionate about carnivores: once we learned the basic secrets, all we really want to do is share what we’ve learned so that the flytrap lament doesn’t have to repeat over and over.

In any case, I think it’s time to update that old “Gothic Beauty” column on the (now) eight surefire ways to kill your Venus flytrap, on the idea that avoiding all of those tips will greatly improve the odds of its survival. Watch this space.

More background is always a good thing

By now, thanks to the wonder of what I call “news churn,” just about everyone on the planet not obsessed with Kim Kardashian’s wedding has heard about the bird-eating Nepenthes in the UK. The Sun ran with it, the BBC ran with it, and surprisingly the Central Somerset Gazette has the only reasonably complete account of the situation. This is how I know I have friends who love me: I had literally dozens of well-intentioned friends E-mailing and calling me to let me know about the BBC article. I’ve also literally had to bite my tongue in one case to keep from yelling “YES, WE’VE GOT A VIDEO!”

Now, what’s really illuminating about this story isn’t that a blue tit was caught in a pitcher plant. Carnivorous plants capturing vertebrates is rare, but it occasionally happens. The Carnivorous Plant Newsletter featured a cover a while back of a Venus flytrap with a baby anole caught in its trap, with only rear legs and tail hanging outside. Sundews are very good at catching newly metamorphosed frogs, and the protocarnivore Roridula has been documented capturing small birds. The widest range of vertebrate carnivory, though, is with the Nepenthes pitcher plants, ranging from frogs to lizards to rodents and even (anecdotally) baby monkeys.

I want to add, at this point, that many of these presumed cases of carnivory are probably accidental. Frog skeletons occasionally show up in Sarracenia and Nepenthes traps, but those are probably frogs using the traps as handy hunting sites that died of natural causes. The rodents found in particularly big Nepenthes were probably attracted by the traps’ fluid as something to drink, and this blue tit was probably trying to steal prey out of the trap when it found itself stuck inside. The surprise isn’t that the plant could catch a bird, but that the bird was so unlucky as to get caught in this situation.

If anything, this story demonstrates what happens when carnivores get prey too big for them to digest before it rots. Carnivores generally have no way to chew or otherwise process larger prey, and many species take advantage of animals that either remove large dead items or take over the job of digestion. In America, you have green tree frogs that camp inside of Sarracenia pitchers, snagging really large prey attracted to the plant and then defecating inside the pitchers: the plants don’t care about the source of nitrogen they’re receiving. In South America, Heliamphora pitchers work well as campgrounds for indigenous frogs as well. Spiders and other arthropod predators have no problem with snagging large prey, and one species, Misumenops nepenthicola, lives inside the pitchers and has special adaptations for dealing with the pitcher fluid.

The other aspect of the story that’s neglected involves Nigel Hewitt-Cooper, who’s already understandably respected for his plants. I first heard about him not just because of his gold medals for entries at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, but because of his position as councillor of Croscombe and Pilton. He’s a very interesting fellow all the way around, and one day, I’m going to the Chelsea Flower Show just to meet him in person.