Orchids, The Great Masters of Deception

Last update: April 3, 2023 in Nature Facts
Orchids, The Great Masters of Deception
© Nickolay Khoroshkov | Dreamstime.com

Orchids are exotic plants with colorful and aromatic flowers. Like many wild plants and flowers, they are reliant only on insects to help them reproduce by carrying their pollen, and they have developed a variety of tricks in order to attract them.

One of the most powerful tricks the beautiful orchid uses is sexual games. Nature’s engineering has gone so far that orchids can perfectly imitate the shape, color and texture of a female insect. By mastering the art of disguise, they attract deluded male insects into carrying their pollen.

In addition, some orchids practice an artful deceit. By producing three chemical substances which mimic the alarm pheromones for various aphids, the orchid misleads female hoverflies into thinking the plant is a good source of food for its own offspring and draws them in to lay their eggs on its petals. The hoverflies almost incidentally pollinate the orchid. Scientists say that even the male hoverflies join the party, attracted by the chance of trying to copulate with the females that were drawn into this game.

Nevertheless, both female and male insects get real pleasure from the small amount of nectar the plant produces and the orchid gets the result it needs, so everyone’s a winner. Researchers say that they are at least five different hoverfly species which are misled and fall into this “trap”.

Another way of “seducing” a fly is by mimicking mushroom smell. Flies love a specific type of mushroom and settle on the orchid in the hopes of a good meal.

Evolution has come up with all these complicated techniques that help orchids to reproduce because its pollen is very small and sticky. It doesn’t float and is intended to get stuck on a bug or another pollinator in order to be transported to another orchid plant. Allergy sufferers may like to take note that as orchid pollen cannot travel through air, orchids are by and large allergy-free plants.

It’s inspiring to see how nature evolves and supplies every living thing with its own powerful survival kit.