Orchid sexual deceit has male wasps in a loved-up frenzy

April 29, 2008
Orchid sexual deceit has male wasps in a loved-up frenzy

Orchids are admired by humans and insects alike, but according to Macquarie University research, one Australian wasp is so enthralled by ‘Orchid Fever' that actually he ejaculates while pollinating orchid flowers.

Australian Tongue orchids lure male insects with counterfeit sex signals that mimic those produced by female insects. Hapless male Orchid Dupe wasps (Lissopimpla excelsa) can't resist mating with the orchid flowers and accidentally become pollen couriers. Until recently, this trick was not thought to harm the reluctant insect Romeos, but biologists Anne Gaskett, Claire Winnick, and Marie Herberstein from Macquarie University, have discovered that the male wasps visiting Tongue orchids waste thousands of sperm on the flowers.

"If males waste all their sperm on orchids, what have they got to offer a real female?" asks Gaskett, a PhD student whose research paper on the study was published on Friday in American Naturalist (volume 171, June). "These pollinator species could suffer considerable reproductive costs if orchids inhibit mating opportunities."

To investigate this issue the researchers performed a worldwide survey of about 200 insects that are fooled into mating with orchids. Interestingly they found that more than 90 per cent of these duped pollinators were from species with a haplodiploid mating system. Extraordinarily, females from haplodiploid species such as wasps, bees and ants can actually produce offspring without sperm from males.

"Even without mating these females can still reproduce, however all the offspring will be male," says Gaskett. "These consequent extra male wasps could be important pollinators for orchids, and as long as some normal sexual reproduction still occurs, the cost of orchid deception can be mitigated."

"Despite the extreme demands they place on their pollinators, Tongue orchids are incredibly successful and have the highest pollination rate ever discovered in a sexually deceptive orchid. And while it's not widely known, Australian orchids are actually global leaders in sexual deception."

Source: Macquarie University

Explore further: Orchid seductress ropes in unsuspecting males

Related Stories

Orchid seductress ropes in unsuspecting males

May 21, 2015

A single population of a rare hammer orchid species known as a master of sexual deception appears to have recently evolved to seduce a new and wider-spread species of impressionable male wasps.

Some shape-shifting animals that can morph to fool others

April 2, 2015

Animals come in all different shapes and sizes, but only a few can change their shapes. Researchers in Ecuador recently reported a new species of frog that can change its skin texture from spiny to smooth – the first ever ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

April 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled upon an orchid ...

Dry future climate could reduce orchid bee habitat

March 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —During Pleistocene era climate changes, neotropical orchid bees that relied on year-round warm, wet weather found their habitats reduced by 30 to 50 percent, according to a Cornell study that used computer models ...

Recommended for you

How bees naturally vaccinate their babies

July 31, 2015

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice—they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how ...

Binary star system precisely timed with pulsar's gamma-rays

July 31, 2015

Pulsars are rapidly rotating compact remnants born in the explosions of massive stars. They can be observed through their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and gamma-rays. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.