Orchid mantises have evolved into a fake flower that out-flowers the real thing. The insects don’t seem to be mimicking any real flower found so far, but have invented something even fancier.
Among the many oddly shaped mantises of the world, only the petal-legged, corsage-worthy orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) comes close to counterfeiting a whole blossom, says James O’Hanlon of Macquarie University in Sydney.
Which can be a nuisance. Searching rainforests for orchid mantises to study is “very frustrating,” O’Hanlon says. “Every time you see a flower you go nuts thinking you’ve found one, and then it’s just a flower.”
This resemblance led Alfred Russel Wallace, the largely forgotten also-ran of evolutionary theory, to propose that the phony flowers lure a pollinator close enough to grab in an eye-blink strike. (They can rip apart a butterfly thrice their size.)
LYING LIKE AN ORCHID An orchid mantis (top) catches insects that come too close, tricked by the insect’s flowerlike appearance. Close-up views of another orchid mantis (bottom) show it feeding on prey.
Credit: Left: J. O’Hanlon; Right: Precarious333/Youtube
Written By: Susan Milius
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