Female wasps are below-ground dwelling, flightless beings. For a male wasp to mate with a female, he must be guided to her location by release of attractive pheromone. Upon arrival, he will land atop the female and grip her tightly by the sides. The Australian Hammer Orchid has capitalized on this mating behaviour, developing an extremely specialised structural form to ensure its pollination.
Hammer orchids have a flower lip shaped like a female wasp, which is attached to the end of a hinged arm. By this design, they can mimic the appearance of a female wasp, whilst also producing a scent that very closely resembles that of the female’s mating pheromone. Male wasps are consequently drawn to the Hammer Orchid flower, and hoodwinked by the plant’s clever structural engineering, grip onto the ‘decoy’ wasp – thinking it a live female. The momentum of the fast-flying male causes the hinge to flip over towards the orchid, hammering the attached male into the pollen centre. The result is a freshly pollinated Hammer Orchid, and a confused male wasp who flies away from the flower both sexually deceived and unsatisfied.
Words by Maddi Howard, art by Cathy Howard
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 4 GIRL