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Nature & You: This plant and insect are bosom buddies

Some plants and insects have a way of taking care of one another. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Some plants and insects have a way of taking care of one another. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

This plant and insect are bosom buddies

Some stories from Ma Nature's world seem almost implausible.

"Like what?" you may ask.

The "for instance" that I will offer up is the almost unfathomable life history of the yucca moth. It's a minuscule insect whose teensy, tiny brain could balance on the head of a straight pin. Such being the case, it is so remarkable about how smart and intelligent this tiny moth is.

The yucca moth gets its name from its close association with the yucca plant. It's a unique insect/plant partnership. These are the only creatures whose actions result in the yucca flowers becoming pollinated. In return, the offspring of the yucca moth feed only on the seeds of this plant.

At first glance, this situation might not seem to be too remarkable. Closer examination, however, reveals that these moths have specially adapted forelegs — all the better to scoop up "handfuls" of yucca flower pollen. The moth then makes a conscious and deliberate move to cram the pollen into the appropriate receptacle on the appropriate flower. It is not a casual or accidental action, but instead, is intended to ensure that these plants produce viable seeds — which will serve as the food source for the moth offspring.

At this point in our discussion, you are probably thinking: "So bad, so sad."

It sounds as if the yucca plant is on the losing end this partnership. The short end of the stick, in a manner of thinking. That is not so, however, because the moth intentionally does not commandeer all of the yucca seeds as food for its offspring.

The moth deliberately lays its eggs on only a select few of the yucca seeds; this practice ensures that some of the yucca seeds will remain viable and allow the plant to continue on and thrive with some of its own offspring. Strange as it may seem, the pea-brained moth thinks ahead to the future and avoids gobbling up the entire supply of yucca seeds.

It is just yet one more example of how truth is often stranger than fiction.

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

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