Trick-turning Tongue Orchids

Trick-turning Tongue Orchids


Cryptostylis spp | Australia

Cryptostylis ovata (not a very sexy wasp). Photo © Kevin Thiele / Wikimedia Commons

We once wrote about the weirdness of Australian animals. But apparently even the plants are weird — and dangerous — down under. Orchids are well known for their sexual deviousness; several species turn tricks by evolving flowers that resemble female insects, or even smell like them, which lures male insects in for a closer look, and inevitable pollen-dusting.

But Australia’s tongue orchids take this sexual deception to a whole new level. Their flowers so closely resemble the aptly named female dupe wasps that when the males fly over to investigate, they actually mate with the flower — to the point of ejaculation. (Check out this video to see the wasps in action. And yea we, went there.)

If you’re wondering why, you’re not alone. Scientists suspect that the orchids actually derive an evolutionary benefit from being so successfully sexy. Wasps reproduce by haplodiploidy, which means that female wasps are produced from an egg and a sperm, while male wasps are produced just from an egg. A male wasp that wastes its sperm mating with a flower has less left over for the ladies, meaning more male wasps — aka pollinators — in the next generation.