Navigation Links
Orchid wears the scent of death

Sex and violence, or at least death, are the key to reproduction for the orchid Satyrium pumilum. Research led by Timothes van der Niet at the University of KwaZulu-Natal shows that the orchid lures flies into its flowers by mimicking the smell of rotting flesh. A new study comparing the scent of the orchids with that of roadkill is to be published in the Annals of Botany http://dx.doi.org10.1093/aob/mcr048 .

The orchid S. pumilum is found in sandy, moist conditions near small streams across the Cape floral kingdom of South Africa. The flowers are a puzzle. They don't carry any nectar and even if they did, the spurs that would hold it are the wrong shape to feed any visitors. So how do they attract insects to pollinate their flowers?

Van der Niet said: "We know it's common for orchids to deceive insects into pollinating them. We also know that some plant species can mimic carrion to attract flies. What we didn't know was how successful this was. Mimicry is often a very poor way to pollinate a plant. So we set out to observe the plants in the wild and see if we could work out how they were attracting flies."

The team staked out a region of farmland with many of the orchids on it. They then went about finding carrion for a comparison.

Van der Niet said: "We didn't kill creatures to entice the flies. Instead we used dassies (rock hyraxes). They're small animals and they look a little like a guinea pig. You can find them almost anywhere in South Africa, and that means you can also find them as roadkill. So we examined the flies visiting the dead dassies, and compared them to the flies visiting the orchids.

"Because of the high density of orchids we didn't see many flies visiting the flowers, but on the nearby dassie carcass we caught a lot of flies carrying orchid pollen, providing ample 'smoking gun' evidence of how common this interaction was. However, we found that not every species of carrion fly at the dassie carcass had orchid pollen on it. The ones that were carrying the pollen were flesh-flies, mostly females."

Further experiments on the flowers showed that the orchids were mimicking the smell of small amounts of carrion. Studies on flies have shown that flesh-flies are better at finding these food sources than other flies.

Van der Niet said: "The flowers of the orchids are incredibly specialised. Not only do they have to entice flies in, but they have to get flies of the right size into the right position to pick up the pollen. We've found that scent plays a hugely important role in pulling in the flies, and even inside the flower different scents attract the flies into the right location to pick up the pollen. The combination of smell and sight is irresistible to some flies. The level of carrion mimicry is amazing; we even saw a female fly leave larvae in a flower because it thought it was carrion.

"What we've done is show for the first time that carrion mimicking flowers are highly sophisticated tools for orchids. It's not just any fly that the orchid is after. For Satyrium pumilum we can now see exactly how successful mimicry is for pollination. It also disproves a clich, you don't always catch more flies with honey."

The study 'Carrion mimicry in a South African orchid: flowers attract a narrow subset of the fly assemblage on animal carcasses' can be freely accessed at the Annals of Botany DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcr048 from March 14.


Contact: Alun Salt
Oxford University Press

Related biology news :

1. Natural reforestation in southern Pyrenees favors orchid
2. Dracula orchids and goblin spiders
3. Orchid tricks hoverflies
4. Common orchid gives scientists hope in face of climate change
5. Breeding orchid species creates a new perfume
6. First known instance of a cricket as an orchid pollinator captured on film by Kew scientist
7. Orchids and fungi -- partners for life
8. Orchid Cellmark Reports Third Quarter 2008 Financial Results
9. Synthetic biology: TUM researchers develop novel kind of fluorescent protein
10. Fluorescent peptides help nerves glow in surgery
11. Cornell researchers find a strong community protects adolescents from risky health behavior
Post Your Comments:
(Date:5/20/2016)... -- VoiceIt is excited to announce its new marketing ... working together, VoiceIt and VoicePass will offer an ... slightly different approaches to voice biometrics, collaboration between ... Both companies ... "This marketing and technology partnership allows VoiceIt ...
(Date:5/12/2016)... -- , a brand of Troubadour Research ... the Q1 wave of its quarterly wearables survey. A ... to a program where they would receive discounts for ... "We were surprised to see that so ... , CEO of Troubadour Research, "primarily because there are ...
(Date:5/3/2016)... 3, 2016  Neurotechnology, a provider of high-precision ... Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) , a complete ... MegaMatcher ABIS can process multiple complex biometric transactions ... of fingerprint, face or iris biometrics. It leverages ... and MegaMatcher Accelerator , which have been ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/27/2016)... , June 27, 2016  Liquid Biotech ... announced the funding of a Sponsored Research Agreement ... circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from cancer patients.  The ... in CTC levels correlate with clinical outcomes in ... These data will then be employed to support ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... While the majority of ... the Cary 5000 and the 6000i models are higher end machines that use the ... of the spectrophotometer’s light beam from the bottom of the cuvette holder. , ...
(Date:6/23/2016)...   Boston Biomedical , an industry leader ... target cancer stemness pathways, announced that its lead ... Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ... gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer. Napabucasin is an orally ... stemness pathways by targeting STAT3, and is currently ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Charm Sciences, Inc. is pleased ... received AOAC Research Institute approval 061601. , “This is another AOAC-RI approval of ... Salter, Vice President of Regulatory and Industrial Affairs. “The Peel Plate methods perform ...
Breaking Biology Technology: