The reason some flowers look like insects is all down to sexual deception – a strategy of which the orchids are masters. The orchid genus Ophrys contains many species that resemble female bees and wasps in order to entice male insects to attempt to mate with them – thus pollinating the flowers.

Advertisement

Ophrys speculum from the Mediterranean is a prime example, it even has a blue patch that looks uncannily like light reflected from the folded wings of a wasp.

But there’s another hidden sexual attractant – the orchid has evolved a scent that exactly mimics the come-hither aroma of female wasps, provoking a sexual frenzy in males.

Browse the perfume counter in a department store and you’ll be left in no doubt that fragrances are potent sexual signals – an evolutionary conclusion that O. speculum and its enslaved wasps reached millions of years ago.


Advertisement

Main image: Mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum) © Getty

Authors

Phil Gates taught biology at Durham University and writes for The Guardian’s Country Diary column.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement