Orchid and orchid bee

Title Info
Common name Orchid; Bee, Orchid
Scientific name Lycaste brevispatha; Euglossini
Taxonomic group Orchidaceae; Apidae
Source Dan L. Perlman
Ecosystems Forests
Forests Tropical rainforest
Ecological interactions Mutualism
Mutualism Pollination
Selection and adaptations Coloration
Coloration Attracting mutualists
Behavior Mating; Communication
Organisms Animals
Animals Insects
Date 1998
Location Monteverde,Puntarenas,Costa Rica,North America

Orchid pollination by orchid bee, Costa Rica. Many orchids have tightly co-evolved relationships with the insect species that pollinate them. In fact, many orchids are only pollinated by one or a few closely related species. The many species of Euglossine bees are called orchid bees because they are very commonly engaged in pollination mutualisms with certain orchid species. Two features make the pollination of orchids especially interesting. First, many orchids do not offer nectar as a reward for their pollinators. Instead, some orchid species offer fragrances that male orchid bees collect and store in special storage organs. Later, the males use these compounds or perhaps altered versions of the compounds as a pheromone to attract females of their species in order to mate. Some orchids do not even offer fragrance rewards but lure pollinators with the promise of nectar but do not deliver anything. A second interesting feature of orchid pollination is their method of pollen packaging. Unlike most flowers, which disperse pollen as individual pollen grains or clumps of grains, the orchids package all their pollen into two little joined packets called pollinia. These get attached to the pollinator who must then take them to another orchid of the same species and correctly pollinate that flower. Unlike most pollination systems in which the flower has built-in backups, since several individual pollinators typically visit a flower and any one of them might successfully disperse the pollen, orchids display an evolutionary high risk gamble. Instead of putting all their eggs in one basket, they literally put all their pollen in one package and hope that it gets delivered to the right kind of flower and is left in exactly the correct position so that pollination can ensue. This sequence of four images shows an orchid bee entering an orchid flower that still has its pollinia in place, the transfer of the pollinia to the bee, and the departure of the bee.