Even Darwin was a self-admitted orchid lover. Dictionaries describe orchids as exotic ornamentals. Indeed, these plants more than 30000 different species are thought to exist are exotic due their extraordinary and diverse flower morphology. However, they are also exotic from a point of view other than beauty: as crafty imposters in order to achieve reproduction and to make sure that their ovaries are pollinated. Orchids depend on the assistance of pollinators, and like many other flowering plants, attract insects.
Epipactis veratrifolia, an orchid native in South Turkey, the Middle East, and Cyprus, has specialized in hoverflies. Because these insects prefer aphids as food for their larvae, the orchid produces three aphid alarm substances, α- and β-pinene, and β-myrcene and β-phellandrene, all of which attract hoverfly females. Interestingly, as the scientists observed, even male hoverflies hang around the orchids, hoping for a chance to copulate with the attracted females.
A bit of nectar as reward
"Hoverfly females as well as males enjoy the small amount of nectar the orchid flower provides. Both sexes serve as pollen transmitters," says ecologist Johannes Stkl. The alarm substances lure five of the different hoverfly species that feed on aphids. Females lay all their eggs in the flower of the orchid, although no aphids are there. "We assume that the insects are not only deceived by the aphid alarm pheromones, but also fall for the aphid-like dark warts in the orchid's flower," explains Bill Hansson, director at the Max Planck Institute.
Mass spectra and electroantennograms
The aphid species Megoura viciae preferred by Episyrphus balteatus hoverflies produces α- and β-pinene as well as β-myrcene. These volatile substances generate measurable electrical impulses in the hoverfly antennae. Behavioral experiments carried out by the research team supported the
|Contact: Bill S. Hansson|
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology