Lies. lies, lies.  Sounds like something Mr Trump would say, don’t you think?  Fake it ’til you make it, otherwise known as cognitive behaviour therapy.  It also describes the internet perfectly.  Have you ever wondered what human nature is?  Isn’t it just nature?  Sorry, I’m amusing myself.  All this fake news has got me thinking.  Specifically, I am thinking you might enjoy learning about a little bit of trickery in the orchid world.  I am talking about sex, lies and infidelity, ladies and gentlemen.

Everyone likes orchids, don’t they?  But they can be tricky characters to propagate.  Members of my family are orchid hunters. They enjoy scouting bushland and woods looking for colonies of Australian native orchids.  I recently overheard the orchid hunters talking about the amazing pollination habits of some orchids.  They explained that there are a good number of orchids that practice sexual deception to attract pollinators.  Male insects (bees, wasps, gnats) are attracted by the scent emitted by the orchid.  These scents mimic the sex pheromones used by the pollinator species to attract a mate.  In some cases the labellum of the flower also mimics the physical attributes of the female insect.  Now these relationships between insect and flower aren’t purely platonic.  The males really go for it.  The polite term for this is pseudo-copulation.  In the process of shagging, pollen is transferred to the male insect, who then passes it on to the next lucky flower.

It makes sense that this relationship is often species-specific with individual species of orchids being pollinated by just one species of insect.  This maximises the chance that the collected pollen ends up in the right flower.  Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?  But it gets even more bizarre.  Often the female of the pollinator species doesn’t need her eggs to be fertilised in order to reproduce.  She can produce male offspring from unfertilised eggs, which is good for the orchid-mistress.  When the male is done with dallying, and the female’s eggs are fertilised, then she produces female offspring.  Whoa, that is some threesome!

I asked my son whether he had any sex photos, but he didn’t.  He suggested I ask fellow orchid hunter, Tobias Hayashi, whether he could share some photos with me.  He could and did – a couple of photos of spider orchids with their respective wasp pollinators.  Tobias is currently doing his PhD on orchids and fungus gnats.  Tobias is also a brilliant photographer, native orchids and birds being his specialty.   If you like his photos below, you will love the photos on his website.  They are truly awesome.  Check them out here.

The first photo is of Caladenia phaeoclavia with its thynnine wasp pollinator, Lophocheilus anilitatus.

orchid - cp

aaThe other is of Caladenia actensis with its undescribed thynnine wasp pollinator. The focus of Tobias’ Honours research was on trying to find the previously unknown pollinator of C actensis.  C actensis is endangered and known only from in and around northern Canberra.  Tobias tells me that the wasp in this photo is actually a rather small individual and probably too small to achieve pollination (it needs to be big enough to get the pollen on its back).   He found that almost half the individuals that visited the orchids were probably too small to pollinate them, despite them all being the same species.

I understand that in order to improve their chances of attracting the insect lads, orchids will compete with one another to emit the best scent and present the best (and biggest) lady bits.  Maybe in this process, they also receive the attention of some suitors that do not have what it takes to make the grade.  Just guessing.

I would like to thank Tobias Hayashi for contributing photos for this post.  I hope, dear Readers, that you were as fascinated as I was, to learn of these saucy goings-on in the plant world.   Orchids are fascinating for many more reasons, but that is a story for another day.

Kind Regards.
Tracy.

Additional resources:
https://biology-assets.anu.edu.au/hosted_sites/orchid_pollination/  and https://ideas.ted.com/the-sexual-deception-of-plants/

 

33 thoughts on “Wonders of Nature

  1. Um, you asked your son for sex photos – now that is a truly funny statement. Liberating but really funny.

    You write so well about a subject that with the wrong pen could be reduced to cheap vulgarity but with yours is a fascinating comment about the nature of what makes things work. Orchids are intoxicating flowers – now I know a bit more about why, and I certainly know why there are so many of those famous orchid hunters. They may look prim and proper with their broad brimmed hats and cameras around their necks, but I know what they’re up to. Life on earth would be very different without bees.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I didn’t notice any typos. I’m more about the message. Now that wordpress has taken away my spell check button, I’m sure I’m going to miss more than usual. However, to me if the message is good you can look beyond the conventions! Always a pleasure.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great photos and a fascinating story of reproductive tricks. But do the lads call themselves orchid hunters? That label makes me think of the plant hunters, who weren’t too fussed about their underhand methods in China and so forth. From what I’ve seen — a young man genuflecting before a tiny, exquisite bush orchid — I’d call Tobias and your son orchid worshippers. Their aim is to understand and protect these plants and their habitat, and that involves something that might surprise some people who have no acquaintance with biologists — devotion.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hehe! Love this very juicy post, Tracy! I’ve heard about a connection between orchids and sex before but didn’t know the details – and now I know thanks to you! 😄
    The pics by your friend are awesome! Going to visit his website!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m completely in love with his pictures, Tracy!! They’re so incredibly good, it kind of makes me ashamed to even try taking pictures myself! 😂
        I’m heading over again to read his photoessay of the Albatross – they belong to my very favorite birds!! How lucky he got to see them during their breeding time!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I feel that every day when I see other people’s beautiful (ie. professional) photos. Then I remind we all have to start somewhere. Same for our art. I am glad you took the time to visit Tobias’ website. His photos are extraordinarily beautiful and they deserve an audience.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Really interesting and beautifully written post Tracy! I’m still smiling. Although there are many gorgeous flower species, orchids somehow manage to steal the show. The theme of our May edition of When Fashion and Nature Collide is Illusion. Darren (aka The Arty Plantsman) will talk about the orchids and their extraordinary shapes, some of which have even come to resemble animals. Just thought you might like to know. Your friends’s photos are stunning by the way and as a scientific journalist I am very interested in his research. I will visit his site soon. Thanks for this great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Dominque. It so funny how a number of your and Darren’s posts have been on issues that I’ve also been thinking about writing a post, but you normally beat me to it. I will look out for your May issue. I might try to post a few more photos of our Australian native orchids. One of my favourites is the flying duck orchid. I’m not a science journalist but I like to write about subjects that speak to my concern for the environment.

      The links in my post also have some great information. The Tedtalk link is particularly informative.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You did a wonderful job Tracey. It was a great read. Can’t wait to see the flying duck orchid. I have heard about it but never saw one. It is normal that we have similar writing ideas since we are all interested in art, environmental issues as well as animals and flora, not to mention good food and photography. I will have a look at your friend’s blog and the Tedtalk link as soon as I get better. I caught a very bad cold and hardly can concentrate at the moment. Have a beautiful week ahead.

        Liked by 2 people

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