Camouflaging Itself as an Insect
When a plant looks like an insect, one of two scenarios is probably at play, explains the Smithsonian’s orchid specialist. The flower might be mimicking a female insect so that an inexperienced male of the same species comes to the flower looking to mate. This ploy is called pseudocopulation. Or it might appear to be a particular insect in order to lure that insect’s predator or parasite. Either way, the duped insect is there to aid in pollination.
American botanist Calaway Dodson claims to have seen zebra butterflies, in the 1950s, attacking this Central and South American orchid species, as if to defend their territory. It is possible that pollen was transferred in this altercation. But no one has actually witnessed the pollination of this type of orchid in the wild. “It is a species that has been in cultivation for well over a century, and yet no one is really sure what pollinates it or why,” says Mirenda. “It is just amazing that such a mystery has lasted all this time.”