Dracula orchids tempt flies by masquerading as mushrooms. Goblin spiders lurk unseen in the world's leaf litter. The natural world is often just as haunting as the macabre costumes worn on city streets, as highlighted by two studies published this year by curators in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, David Grimaldi and Norman Platnick.
According to Grimaldi and colleagues, fruit flies (Drosophilidae) of the genus Zygothrica typically swarm on mushrooms and other rain forest fungi. But one group of orchids in the American tropics takes advantage of their preferences, duping the hapless flies into pollinating them with the scent and appearance of mushrooms. These orchids are from the genus Dracula, named so to keep the spirit of a former name, Masdevallia, when it was realized that there were separate orchid groups.
"Over 200 years ago, botanists on major Spanish expeditions to Peru named a new orchid Masdevallia because of the flower's similarity to monsterly creatures like dragons and bats," says Lorena Endara of the University of Florida in Gainesville. "Carlyle Luer, who later segregated Dracula from Masdevallia, sees these orchids as little bats flying in the forest since the flower faces down and the triangular sepals and the long sepaline tails display parallel to the ground."
"Some of the flies attracted to Dracula are new species, and I am presently working on descriptions of them," says Grimaldi. "I wanted to call this paper 'Dracula as Lord of the Flies,' but my co-authors convinced me to use the title 'Lord of the Flies: Pollination of Dracula orchids.'"
The paper, published in the orchid journal Lankesteriana, presents over 700 hours of observational data on flowers in Ecuadorian cloud forest where fruit flies were seen mating in (and hence pollinating) Dracula orchids.
|Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips|
American Museum of Natural History