Sex, Lies, and...Orchids?
“A new study reveals the reason why orchids use sexual trickery to lure insect pollinators. The study, published in the January issue of The American Naturalist, finds that sexual deception in orchids leads to a more efficient pollinating system. While most flowering plants reward pollinators with tasty nectar, many orchid species turn to trickery. Some use what's called food deception. They produce flowers that look or smell like they offer food, but offer no edible reward. Other orchids use sexual deception. They produce flowers that look or smell like female insects, usually bees or wasps. Males are drawn to the sexy flowers and attempt to mate with it. In doing so, they accidentally collect pollen on their bodies, which fertilizes the next orchid they visit. From an evolutionary perspective, the sexual strategy is a bit puzzling. Orchids that offer nectar or mimic food can attract a wide variety of food-seeking pollinators -- bees, wasps, flies, ants and so on. But sexual displays are only attractive to the males of a single species -- a flower that looks like a female wasp is only going to attract male wasps, not other insects. So in appealing to sex, these orchids limit their potential pollinators, which would seem to be a reproductive disadvantage.”