Orchid Mantis Mimics Flowers To Attract Its Prey
The Orchid Mantis takes the form of the orchid flower to lure its prey and is more effective than actual blooms.
Nature never runs out of ways to leave us gaping in awe of how creatures and plants evolve to best suit their needs. In a new Australian study, researchers found that orchid mantis mimics a real orchid to lure its prey. What’s even more fascinating is that these insects actually find this creature more attractive than the real flower, according to an Australian Geographic report.
Over the years, this creature has evolved to resemble an orchid not only in terms of its shape but also its color. Flowers usually use their beauty and scent to lure insects to help them in pollination. Researchers of the study were surprised to find that the orchid mantis was 30 percent more effective in attracting the same insects than actual orchids.
"We measured the hourly rate at which the pollinators flew up to the mantis and compared that to real flowers," said Dr James O’Hanlon, an ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, according to the report. “I thought they’d be comparable, but the orchid mantis went way over.”
The creature has been titled an “aggressive mimic” by scientists as early as 1800’s. The genesis of the idea is attributed to naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. However, the rarity of this species made it difficult for researchers to confirm whether it was a predator or a parasite.
Therefore, researchers from Sydney and Auckland were compelled to conduct an extensive study of the creature, for which they traveled to Malaysia and sought the help of the Orang Asli tribe, native Malaysians who live possess an extensive knowledge of the forest.
"They likely have an enormous wealth of knowledge about the natural history of the plants and animals of Malaysian rain forests that we scientists have yet to fully appreciate," O’Hanlon said in a National Geographic report.
At the beginning of the study, researchers confirmed the color of the orchid mantis was indistinguishable from 13 species of wild flowers in the areas the predator lived. With the help of a spectrophotometer, the researchers then tested the colors under the wavelengths of light visible to the flying, pollinating insects most likely to visit the blossoms, such as bees and butterflies.
Researchers found that the mantises attracted their prey regardless of where they were perched. Pollinating insects were equally attracted to the mantises whether they were sitting on a blossom or on a pile of leaves.
"This is the only animal in the world that we know of that resembles a flower blossom to attract prey," O’Hanlon said according to Fox News. “There are other animals that are known to camouflage amongst flowers and ambush prey items, but they do not actually attract the pollinators themselves the flowers they sit on are the attractive stimulus. The orchid mantis is unique in that the mantis itself is the attractive stimulus. This means the mantis can sit away from flowers, perhaps on leaves or bark, and still lure in pollinators.”
The orchid mantis is not the only animal that camouflages itself behind flowers to ambush its prey. However, the tactic it uses is very different. The creature doesn’t hide itself amongst the flowers but sits in front, attracting insects.
Researchers are yet to determine whether the creature’s camouflaging technique also helps it disguise itself from its own predators.