“the only memory of the bee is a painting by a dying flower”

The image below is of the bee orchid, Ophrys apifera. I know I'm 'seeing' something – the 'face' – that isn't really there (an example of pareidolia), but still, that's one happy-looking flower!

File:Ophrys apifera (flower).jpg

Image courtesy of Hans Hillewaert, from wikimedia.

Actually, the flower looks quite a bit like a bee sitting on on a blossom. This suggests that the plant is pollinated by at least one species of bee, with male bees attempting to copulate with something that looks to them like a potential mate. This is well-known in orchids, and indeed some species also produce pheromones mimicking those of a female wasp.

However, it turns out that over much of the range of O.apifera there is no longer any pollinator. Instead, in many regions the orchid self-pollinates, relying on the wind to blow the flowers dangling pollen sacs ('pollinia') against its sticky stigma, which seems a little hit-&-miss.

While one pollinator does still exist in one part of the orchid's range, this cartoon from xkcd is nonetheless rather poignant:

Bee Orchid



2 thoughts on ““the only memory of the bee is a painting by a dying flower””

  • Alison Campbell says:

    Yes, that’s xkcd’s take (probably got the letter order wrong there!) rather than mine. The way apifera does it does seem a bit hit & miss, though. Watching videos of bees busy on other orchids, there seems to be quite a bit of force involved in getting the pollina detached. Would a calm spring/summer see no orchid sex that year?

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