I know it may seem odd to call a plant a sexual predator, but, in fact, as I learned reading the September issue of National Geographic recently, it's true. The article, Love and Lies, talks about how some species of orchids have evolved to exploit the sexual tendencies of other species of animals in order to increase pollination.
Now, not every species of orchid uses the lust of other species to increase pollination. Some orchids have evolved to mimic other species, some have evolved to mimic appealing smells. But some... Well, I'll let author Michael Pollan explain the method used by one particular flower...
In the case of this particular Ophrys, that animal is a relative of the bumblebee. The orchid offers no nectar or pollen reward; rather, it seduces male bees with the promise of bee sex and then insures its pollination by frustrating precisely the desire it has excited. The orchid accomplishes its sexual deception by mimicking the appearance, scent, and even the tactile experience of a female bee. The flower, in other words, traffics in something very much like metaphor: This stands for that. Not bad for a vegetable.
Pretty ingenious, right? The flower mimics the female of the species, attracting the male. The male flies along, looking for a pretty girl, spots the flower, and then... ahem... starts some romance. While he's busy romancing, the flower plants two sticky sacks of pollen onto his back. The male eventually becomes frustrated, and flies off, taking the pollen with him, which he'll deposit the next time he finds what he thinks is a lovely lady.
I bet you never knew flowers were so conniving.
Photo used courtesy of Samantha Allen Photography.