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Ophrys tenthredinifera

Ophrys tenthredinifera

Thank you to pmarquesbird@Flickr of Portugal for today's photograph. If you get a chance, browse his Flickr set of photographs – Portugal's nature, landscapes and cityscapes are all well-illustrated. Much appreciated!

The common name for this insect-mimic is sawfly orchid. Like other members of the genus Ophrys (collectively known as the “bee orchids”), its relies on fooling male insects for its pollination. The combination of pattern and pheromones from the plant mimics the look and smell of the female insect, thereby enticing the male insect to visit. While the male insect pseudocopulates, it accidentally collects pollen on its body. A subsequent visit to a different plant completes the act of cross-pollination.

Wikipedia has a great entry on Ophrys if you'd like to learn more. For photographs and a human use of sawfly orchid, visit the Herbarium at the University of Reading's page on Ophrys tenthredinifera.

Apologies for the late entry today. Access to the server was down last night and my Internet access from home failed me early this morning.


I was always astonished on how a plant can mimic an insect. If I think in evolution (and that's, I think, is a true theory). I'd like someone to help me understand how a plant can evolve in such way in a few millions of years (how can they know the insect looks like this and then, through hasardeous tryouts, finally arrive at such a form?). I thought the evolution explains that Nature tries thousands of little difference in each generation and the best adapted stay. But how can such adaptation happen ?

Even this sort of adaptation can be built from small steps. If an orchid had a slight pheromonal or visual resemblence to a pollinator to start with, this would be selected for by slightly enhanced reproductive success. Over millions of years this success can translate into pretty amazing results. I am sure there must be a website out there that explains this in more detail than I am qualified to, but I haven't found one yet. Co-evolution of plants and insects is a fascinating topic though... a lot of amazing stories and great research in this field.

None other than Charles Darwin himself addressed this very topic. In the book immediately succeeding “The Origin of Species”, Darwin explored how the present-day orchid is an assemblage of ancestral floral parts. You can read the 1862 book online here: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing.

The EvoWiki page on Orchid Flowers is a good starting point as a collection of resources, though it unfortunately has a few expired links.

Going through saved pix and the question is seriously off date, but do you know what the name of the saw fly that is involved with this orchid is called? I'd love to see a picture. I've gotten more and more interested in plant/insect connections.

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