Orchid lures hornets with (the smell of) treats like a sexual predator

Sexual reproduction is tricky business when you’re a plant and can’t move around to find a mate. Plants have solved this problem by attracting pollinators to do the all that hard, physical work. Orchids have taken the ol’ pollinator-attracting gambit further than most.

Take the Dendrobium sinense, for instance, which has evolved to produce the same pheromone that honeybees use to alert hive mates to trouble. This chemical signal attracts hungry hornets expecting ti find some tasty honeybees.

The predatory insects recognise the smell and pounce on the flowers, only to find the larder empty. But they carry pollen with them to the next orchid that lures them into its honeybee trap.

Scientists had noticed that the hornet, Vespa bicolor, was a frequent visitor to D. sinense orchids. Rather than landing and pausing on the petals, like most pollinators, the hornets instead swooped in on the red centre of the flower – as if attacking prey. [Daily Mail]

The orchid is basically a sexual predator, luring unsuspecting hornets to land on their genitals and sprinkling their seed on the poor hornets who then have to fly home hungry.

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