The Orchid That Fools Bees

By Shlomo Maital  

  My grandson Aharon Feinsilver is an amateur zoologist, with a particular fondness for wildflowers.  In the garden of his parents’ home in Southern Israel, he has grown Ophrys apifera, known as the bee orchid. 

    “This is a self-pollinating orchid that has managed to devise a unique trick.   It lures male bees through mimicry (its flower looks like a female bee) and scent (its scent resembles odors the female bee emits).  [Male bees] have been observed attempting to copulate with the flowers, which emit allomones that mimic the scent of the female bee.  …. In addition to chemosensory mimicry, the labellum of the flower acts as a visual decoy that the male bee confuses for a female.  It is believed that male bees preferentially select orchids with the most bee-like labellum and attempt copulation, at which point the pollinia stick to the bee during the pseudocopulation. This achieves pollen transfer and, potentially, pollination.”

          Evolution can generate some pretty amazing tricks.  This one is especially amazing, because it is a double whammy – both scent and appearance, to lure unsuspecting male bees. 

          A tip of the hat to Ophris apifera!    May the Force be with you.  May you live long and prosper.