Ophrys Orchid And Sexual Deception

The Ophrys Orchid has evolved to be quite devious. Or so a certain species of bee thinks so. As shown in the image, the orchid has a stripy pattern that bees will perceive as somebee within their own species. An attractive female somebee. The Ophrys Orchid is demonstrating something called sexual deception.

Ophrys apifera, Photo Credit: Hans Hillewaert

Basically what the Ophrys is doing is imitating a certain kind of bee so that the male of that species will come and collect pollen from it. The bee will land on the orchid, thinking it is a female, and try to copulate with it, but obviously fail. But in trying to copulate, the bee will have pollen stuck to it because of its sexy movements. When the male bee realizes this deception, he will stop trying to have sex with the orchid and fly off. Many plants produce flowers that are fragrant and colourful, so why put effort into sexual deception and limit the pollinators who visit you?

Apparently, bees who fall for the orchid’s deception once, will do it again. And again. By having many pollinators, lots of pollen does not make it to its designated flower. But with the Ophrys orchid, the bees will go from one Ophrys orchid to another without losing a lot of pollen, and the Ophrys orchid can reproduce.

Interested in learning more about the mating behaviours of different plants, animals, and fungi? Check back here for more Mating Mondays.

For more information about plants, check out the herbarium