[OGD] Re: Butterflies

  • From: Oliver Sparrow <director@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: orchids@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2010 09:27:06 +0000


>BTW, has anyone got a reference to support this "bees and butterflies" bit,
>or should I write it off as total unmitigated crap ?

Yes, I was surprised by that, too. Do any butterflies anywhere pollinate
orchids? Moths, yes, wasps, yes; but putting the 'but' in butterflies, I don't
know. Darwin did a drawing of a S American species which had evolved its
pollinia to clasp the tip if a humming bird's beak, so anything is possible. 

I was also surprised by another quote, to the effect that only a few orchids
have dedicated pollinators, the implication being that flippertigibbit insects
promiscuously bumble around, occasionally doing the necessary for orchids.
Today a lily, tomorrow a daisy. 

This rather flies (ahem) in the face of the evidence. Orchids are unusual in
lots of ways, but their production of (mostly) huge quantities of (generally)
dust-fine seed is central to their biology. To get 1-6 million seeds, you have
to transfer the same number of gametes in the pollen. Orchids do that by
bundling these into pollinia, which is then a one-shot reproductive gamble.
Either the pollinium gets to another flower of the same species, or all is
lost. Dust-pollen flowers, by contrast, dabble every passing bee with yet more
reproductive chances, admittedly of fewer seeds per ovary. 

Consequently, the 'orchid experience' has to imprint the insect deeply, such
that it seeks out another of the same with all its abilities. That is why (I
suspect that) orchid flowers are so strikingly structured, and so
differentiated from each other and from other flowers. The pollinators may not
be dedicated, in this sense of this species fitting only that flower, but they
are dedicated the way pop fans are dedicated to their band: once struck,
forever dizzy while the season lasts. 

Oliver Sparrow
+44 (0)1628 823187

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