What insect has the ability to extend down into the nearly foot-long nectar tube of the ghost orchid? For generations, that question has interested researchers who’ve speculated that the giant sphinx moth, which has a proboscis that often exceeds 10 inches, was one of few species with a tubular tongue that could reach the sticky pollen nestled inside the endangered flower.
Shot during the course of three years, a short documentary by Grizzly Creek Films follows researchers committed to proving this hypothesis. It draws on Charles Darwin’s 160-year-old studies about orchids’ evolution, particularly in relation to one species in Madagascar about which he famously said, “Good heavens. What insect could suck it?” In “Chasing Ghosts,” the team wades into the buggy swamplands of south Florida alongside snakes and alligators to reach a grove of cypress trees, where the white flowers wrap themselves high among the boughs. There they installed cameras to capture the first-ever photograph of the giant sphinx moth probing the ghost orchid.
In total, the mission logged 6,800 camera hours and 52,173 images taken in both Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Fakahatchee Strand and recorded five species capable of pollinating the delicate plant. Surprisingly, the same event that they sought to capture—the giant sphinx moth with its proboscis reaching into the elusive flower—actually debunked researchers’ long-held hypothesis and set them on a new course of study to determine how this plant continues to reproduce.
Watch the full documentary above, and find more of the Montana-based studio’s adventures into Yellowstone and the rugged landscapes of the southern United States on the Grizzly Creek Films’ site and Vimeo. You also can follow its discoveries on Instagram.