A cunning trick! Flower mimics the smells of a bee under attack to fool bloodthirsty flies into pollinating it
- Giant Ceropegia fools flies by mimicking the smells of distressed bees
- The flies, called Desmometopa, feed on honeybees caught by spiders
- The plant temporarily traps the hungry flies, forcing them to pollinate it
From dazzling colours to tempting shapes, plants use a number of tricks to attract insects which enable them to reproduce.
Now, researchers have discovered an ornamental flower that takes plants' deception of their pollinators to a whole new level.
Giant Ceropegia - (Ceropegia sandersonii) sometimes known as a parachute plant - fools certain flies into pollinating it by mimicking the scent of honeybees under attack.
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In a show of how tricky mother nature can be, the Giant Ceropegia flower (pictured) uses the scent of honeybees in trouble to lure flies into pollinating it
While this may seem like an unusual choice of scent, the flies find the smell attractive because they typically dine on the drippings of honeybees that are in the clutches of a spider or other predatory insect and flock to the flower.
'These flowers have a complex morphology, including trapping structures to catch pollinators, temporarily trap, and finally release them,' said Stefan Dötterl of the University of Salzburg in Austria.
'We show that trap flowers of this plant mimic alarm substances of western honeybees to lure food-stealing freeloader flies as pollinators.
'Flies are attracted to the flowers, expecting a meal, but instead of finding an attacked honeybee they are temporarily trapped in the non-rewarding flowers and misused as pollinators.'
The flies drawn to the flower by the false scent are known as kleptoparasites and commonly feed on honeybees eaten by spiders (pictured)
THE CORPSE FLOWER
Ceropegia sandersonii is not the only plant to have a disgusting and gruesome scent.
Perhaps the most famous is Amorphopallus titanium or Titan-Arum - known as the corpse flower, which blooms rarely for just one or two days, and smells like a rotting corpse.
It's a large plant, growing up to 12 feet (3.6 metres) tall, with a maximum weight of 200lbs (90.7kg).
Inside its large petal-like leaves is a fleshy entral spike that houses two rings of both male and female flowers.
The rare plant is native to Indonesia, as it thrives in the high heat, humidity and needs enough space to grow.
Its distinctive smells are created by a number of different molecules, which draw flies, beetles and even people who want to see what the hype is all about.
One of the molecules, timethylamine, smells like rotting fish and another is isovaleric acid, which resembles the cheesy, sweaty odour responsible for terrible gym sock smells, according to National Geographic.
A young corpse flower takes about seven to 10 years to store enough energy to begin its bloom cycle.
Between four and six per cent of plants, including the fly-pollinated genus Ceropegia, are pollinated by deceit.
This means they engage in false advertising by appearing to offer a reward, such as pollen or nectar, a mating partner, or an egg-laying site.
But the new study, published in the journal Current Biology, is among the first to describe a plant that achieves pollination by mimicking the scent of an adult carnivorous animal's dinner.
Co-authors Annemarie Heiduk and Ulrich Meve from the University of Bayreuth in Germany became intrigued by the African flower's unusual approach when they realised the flies pollinating Ceropegia sandersonii were Desmometopa.
These flies are known as kleptoparasites and commonly feed on honeybees eaten by spiders.
Dr Dötterl said: 'We asked ourselves how the flies might find such honeybees.'
When observing a honeybee caught by a spider, the biologists noticed the bee extruded its sting and released a drop of venom.
Bee venom is known to contain volatile alarm pheromones, which serve to call and attract nest mates for help, leading the experts to wonder whether the plant might be taking advantage of this line of communication among honeybees.
Preliminary experiments showed that honeybees under simulated attack were highly attractive to the flies.
And the researchers were able to show that the floral scent of C. sandersonii is indeed comparable to volatiles released from honeybees when under simulated attack.
They found some of the shared compounds elicit a response in the antennae of pollinating Desmometopa flies and are strong attractants for these insects.
The team now hopes find out whether other plants, including other species of Ceropegia pollinated by kleptoparasitic flies, use a similar reproductive strategy.
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