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The Catasetum orchid’s unusual pollination trick

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There are plants on the planet that are best-pollinated by one specific insect. This is true for orchids in the genus Catasetum, which requires the Euglossine or orchid bee to help carry pollen between the neotropical Catasetum’s male and female flowering plants.

These orchids have evolved an effective bit of engineering: a trigger that forcefully glues a bundle of pollen, called a pollinium, onto the bees back. The blog In Defense of Plants continues:

“Bees soon learn that the male flowers are rather unpleasant places to visit so they set off in search of a meal that doesn’t pummel them. This is quite possibly why the flowers of the individual sexes look so different from one another. As the bees visit the female flowers, the pollen sacs on their back slip into a perfect groove and thus pollination is achieved.”

Sir David Attenborough demonstrates this unusual pollination mechanism in this NatureBites clip from the natural history documentary series Kingdom of Plants 3D.

the trigger gluing the pollen packet to the bee
bundle of pollen

The second half of the clip shares how Madagascar‘s comet orchid, also ocalled Darwin’s orchid in the in the genus Angraecum, is pollinated by the Morgan’s sphinx moth. The insect’s unusually long proboscis makes it the only pollinator capable of reaching down the comet orchid’s long spur—”27–43 cm (10.6–16.9 in) from its tip to the tip of the flower’s lip”—to reach nectar.

Morgan's sphinx moth
Watch these related pollination videos:
The Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat has a crazy-long tongue
Hawk moths and The Art of Staying Stable
• A bumblebee dislodges pollen in slow-mo
• Why are wasps just as wonderful as bees?
Rafflesia kerrii, the world’s largest, smelliest flower?!

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