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  • What does it take to film something

  • that's never been filmed before?

  • And what if that something is high up in a tree, in the middle of a wild swamp,

  • in one of the most unexplored places in North America?

  • Well, this short documentary we're about to show you is about a team doing just that;

  • filming something that has only ever been hypothesized.

  • The pollination of the ghost orchid.

  • The mystery about this rare flower has actually become an obsession to solve.

  • But is it worth getting rained on while trudging through alligator and snake infested water?

  • for these guys...

  • that answer is a wholehearted "Yes".

  • Now from Grizzly Creek films,

  • this is Chasing Ghosts.

  • The Swamp itself is steeped in mystery.

  • Holding a wildness that is so increasingly rare in modern life.

  • There's this fairy-like, ghost-like thing dancing off the edge of a tree.

  • It just deepens the mystery.

  • It deepens the power of those places.

  • There's just nothing like it

  • the way as these curling tendrils in that long nectar stem, the artistry is in the form itself.

  • There are so few of them.

  • They're so endangered and so elusive that we hardly know anything about them.

  • We all have this inherent desire to know the answers.

  • This is something that is in our backyard that science doesn't know yet.

  • What pollinates the ghost orchid?

  • You know, this is the burning question that has outlasted generations of scientists.

  • This summer, we're like, you know what, if we're gonna do this, we got to go all in.

  • This team that's going about it in different ways.

  • We are up 50 feet in a cypress tree.

  • Carlton is having to wade through waist deep water and then paddleboard miles and heads.

  • The chase of this photo is definitely pushing all of us.

  • Your breaking point.

  • I don't actually know the ingredients of obsession.

  • Maybe it's a chance of trying something that seems impossible.

  • Orchids are the most diverse group of flowering plants in the world.

  • There are about 25 - 30,000 species.

  • The most iconic orchid pollination story is one that Darwin was interested in 150 years ago.

  • And it involves an orchid in Madagascar that has a nectar tube that's over a foot long.

  • And Darwin had predicted that a moth must have a tongue that's that matches the length

  • of the nectar tube.

  • This thing was so extreme that his

  • expression was "Good heavens, what insect can suck it?"

  • Here in South Florida. It's the most diverse place for orchids in the United States.

  • And so was really drawn to the ghost orchid because how little was known about it.

  • It's all about this game of enchantment.

  • You know, it's this nondescript twig like leafless plant growing on the side of a cypress

  • tree until it pushes this ephemeral ghost-like flower for the sole purpose of attracting a pollinator.

  • A super specific flower adapted and co-evolved to a super specific pollinator.

  • It's always been suspected that the giant Sphinx moth pollinates, the ghost orchid based

  • on the size of the moth, the length of the tongue, in a scientific sense, we need to

  • prove that.

  • This is the perfect embodiment of the scientific process.

  • Here's the theory.

  • Let's put it to the test.

  • Mack and I've been talking about trying to photograph ghost orchids being pollinated

  • going back to 2014.

  • Here's how I'm going to try to do it.

  • And the idea is actually to use camera traps and sleep out in the swamp for however long

  • it takes.

  • The hard part too, though, is that the ghost like the way those roots are and how old it is, and is all over

  • that, that's got to be a 50 year old orchid by the size of those roots.

  • It's a ghost orchid here in corkscrew swamp they've called the super ghost and that is

  • because it produces so many flowers every single year.

  • and has a massive roots that just spider out in all directions.

  • And it's not just one bloom.

  • It's not two blooms.

  • It can get up to 16 blooms at a time, which is insane.

  • I've got bud envy.

  • [laughter]

  • It's a nonstop moth party.

  • "Yeah"

  • Well, I hope it is.

  • Into the swamp.

  • "You got everything?" "Yeah, ready?"

  • When we started undertaking this project I called Peter, who is an expert in orchids

  • who worked for years on pollination attempts.

  • Peter's an animal, he actually went out in the swamp for weeks at a time and stood on

  • a ladder, aiming an infrared video camera at a ghost orchid,

  • patrolling different flowers, hoping something would come.

  • It was so frustrating for so long, that I was almost just ready to walk away from the whole

  • thing.

  • And then Mac, Carlton, were kind of like you know,

  • yeah, well, you're meant to do this.

  • We gotta do this.

  • I was ascending and Mac was coming up as well.

  • And he looked up the trunk and just saw a Giant Sphinx moth.

  • They are so camouflaged.

  • I don't I have no idea how Mac even spotted it.

  • The moth is sitting right there.

  • And we're kind of wondering, you know, is the sun going to set in this thing is it going

  • to take off and fly right to the orchid and pollinate it?

  • Tonight might be the night.

  • These ancient canopies that used to extend all over the southeast, they hold an entire

  • ecosystem.

  • This ghost orchid is a relic of that ecosystem of how it used to be.

  • I think for Mac, the chance to come here to Corkscrew, to go to this amazing ghost orchid

  • and try to put a camera trap there is something no one had even thought of doing.

  • And so while I'm having to climb up 50 feet to see and photograph mine, Carlton is by

  • water trying to make this image happen.

  • We're kind of on parallel pursuits to try to answer this question.

  • Part of the obsession for me, the biggest part of the intrigue, is where this orchid lives.

  • Because these are the wildest, most inaccessible places we have left in the state of Florida,

  • arguably, in the East.

  • They're these deep, flooded, remote swamps, twisted and gnarled trunks forming these cathedrals.

  • It's dark, it's green, it feels like you're in the Amazon, or in some other world.

  • Wading waist deep amongst alligators, panthers bears...it's really easy to get really wild,

  • really remote, really quick.

  • We're getting walloped. By down pour here.

  • here

  • actually loved it.

  • And they range like this.

  • It feels like the swamp comes to life and I do too.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if we get an inch of rain and we can actually see this swamp rise.

  • There is a really strange fervor about these orchids.

  • I didn't understand it at first, but I used to say "they" those people that are crazy about

  • this effort, I now have to say "we" because I'm doing things that I would never do. I stay

  • up at night. I cannot sleep.

  • The ghost orchid frenzy is real.

  • One in 10 of these ghost orchids actually produced a flower each year.

  • And of those one in 10 actually get pollinated.

  • So if you stack up the odds, and you'd have to put out 10 cameras on 10 different blooms

  • to have a probability of one moth coming

  • to moths are so rare. Is there even a moss in the vicinity that could pollinate this.

  • There's a reason why it hasn't been documented before and that's because it's really really

  • difficult.

  • ...craziest thing just happened. I was looking down changing out my battery and then pop

  • up a pop up.

  • Camera went off 10 times I thought it was a false trigger.

  • Now I looked up in like 12 inches from my face.

  • There is a moth sitting on the orchid flower.

  • Scrolling through literally 1000s of photographs.

  • Had itty bitty moths, that they were just kind of hovering in space, medium sized moths landing

  • on the flower but no capability to get any nectar as a reward.

  • There's one photo where the orchid is bounces out of the frame down and out of the frame

  • up.

  • I'm like "What in the world is going on", and there's a little frog.

  • It was hanging off of it.

  • So you're getting like this window into this microcosm, that happens around this bloom.

  • So let's keep these cameras going.

  • Let's see what we have after the end of a couple months.

  • Just the ones that are about to open is 1, 2, 3, 4.

  • But then I count eight more after these four.

  • See what this baby's got. Yeah.

  • Go up, get to the camera.

  • I hit play.

  • And I started scrolling through images.

  • And I remember my heart jumping.

  • Yeah.

  • He's right across from me.

  • And I said, Peter, I've got I've got orange on the flanges.

  • He's like, what, as like, orange on the wings.

  • You looks at this.

  • And he goes, "Dude. You have the first ever photo of a Giant Sphinx moth at a ghost orchid"

  • So you have this elongated body of the giant Sphinx, kind of arching back and its wings

  • are spread and it's hovering.

  • And it's proboscis is out right in front of the orchids.

  • And it's just sitting there.

  • It's like it was just, it was just placed.

  • There are multiple frames of this giant Sphinx.

  • And I started looking at them closely. I zoomed in and looked at the face of this moth.

  • And it is covered, just covered with a different kind of pollen, pollinia, most likely from

  • a moon vine.

  • And I'm looking at it even closer, and I'm thinking, wow, you know, it's got its proboscis

  • all the way into this flower.

  • And yet, it's faces still an inch or two inches out of the flower.

  • Could it be that the giant Sphinx actually has a proboscis

  • that is almost too long to get its face into the orchid?

  • Could it be that the Giants Sphynx it's actually robbing nectar from this flower?

  • Peter and I were both like, you know, this kind of turns the whole theory on its

  • on its head.

  • This existing idea that this is the only pollinator is perhaps not actually providing any benefit

  • at all to the flower.

  • And that was a wild moment.

  • So discovery opens up this whole new kind of Pandora's box, there are all these other

  • things that add more questions.

  • We as humans, like a simple story, but it seems that at least in this case, reality

  • is a little more complex.

  • an hour, five in the morning.

  • One in the morning. 10pm, I cycled through a couple more nights and all of a sudden,

  • bam, there is a huge moth, right on the lip of this ghost orchid. It's huge.

  • There's a moth that was bigger than anything I expected to see.

  • It has so much weight when it lands it like brings the orchid down out of frame and then

  • back. A moth of that species visited this orchid three times.

  • So I shared these with Peter and colleagues.

  • And that's when everyone started getting really excited.

  • It was like so this is a giant Sphinx and I was like No, and he was just like, damn.

  • And I was like, Dude, it's way more interesting.

  • Like, this was never even suspected before.

  • You know, like I'd never even thought of that Fig Sphinx being pollinated.

  • There's pollinia on the face.

  • That's like that's the money shop.

  • These discoveries basically are unprecedented.

  • Each photo that Mac and Carlton get, lends a new perspective into the behavior.

  • And it's not just about ghosts now.

  • Pollination is critical to our livelihoods.

  • Good ol' Chuck Darwin would be proud of this.

  • Yes, there is a physical image at the end of the day, but it is the journey of getting

  • to that.

  • That is what's so rewarding.

  • And especially in a place that we care so much about.

  • Over the past three years, dozens of trips hundreds of hours.

  • I've fallen in love with these very specific corners of these remote swamps.

  • We still have these truly wild stories that the rest of the world doesn't know about.

  • Thanks for watching Seeker Indie's premiere of Chasing Ghosts.

  • It's stories like these that can inspire more discoveries, more adventures and new ideas

  • that may one day help save our planet.

  • Now let's talk to them.

  • We want to know what motivated them how it all came together.

  • And of course, how scary it was to film an alligator filled swamp.

  • I'm Eric Bendik and the series Producer here at Grizzly Creek films in Bozeman, Montana.

  • When I started working on a big feature project about the Florida Panther, Carlton started

  • putting a bug in my ear about this moth project that he wanted to spend an entire summer. He

  • had already spent a ton of time chasing this moth.

  • And I was kind of at first a little hesitant.

  • I was like, well, that seems like a lot of energy to pour into that.

  • Not to mention, you know, you're going into the swamp in the most hostile time of year

  • super wet, super mosquito-y.

  • And then of course, like everything's happening at night, and then for whatever reason that

  • ghost orchid just lures everybody in.

  • I mean, it's like this obsession that you just cannot shake.

  • As soon as someone puts the idea in your head.

  • It's like oh, yeah, well, we could do that we could carve out some time we'll figure

  • this out.

  • Yes, there's been quite a bit published since the film came out.

  • And it's been really exciting to see some of that work, get peer reviewed and figured

  • out. There's definitely ideas about using the applications of this technology for more studies,

  • not just of the ghost orchid, but other pollinators, which would be super cool to

  • see.

  • And then I think there's a bigger picture things going on, you know about people trying

  • to reassess like, what is this coevolution thing really all about?

  • Do we need to think about that in a broader way as maybe including more than just one

  • species, one plant or one tree?

  • Could it be broader than that?

  • So that's really exciting.

  • And that's kind of new in the whole field that we're working in.

  • My feeling on this next generation and people coming up in the wildlife world is really

  • focused on those stories that you think can make a difference. Really focus on a story

  • that feels urgent, a story that feels like if you don't tell it no one else will. Something

  • unique to the world.

  • And something that is really only happening now.

  • It doesn't matter if your production value or what camera you use, or all of those things