It may look pretty, but this “orchid” actually has a trick under its, well, leaves—it’s actually a praying mantis trying to get a meal.
Until recently, scientists weren’t sure if this flower mimic was accurate enough to deceive bugs. Now, a new study says it is—and it’s the first scientific evidence of an animal imitating a flower to attract prey.
The orchid mantis’ story goes back to 1879, when Australian journalist James Hingsley came back from Indonesia with tales of a carnivorous orchid that enveloped butterflies in its petals and consumed them alive. Hingsley hadn’t actually discovered an insect-eating flower. He, like those butterflies, was fooled by the orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus). (Watch a praying mantis video.)
For their recent study, scientists James O’Hanlon and Marie Herberstein of Macquarie University in Australia and Gregory Holwell of the University of Auckland in New Zealand went to Malaysia to find out if the orchid mantis’ blossom impression really lured pollinators to their deaths. Herberstein received funding from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration.
The first challenge for the team was finding orchid mantises in the dense forests of Malaysia. The researchers relied on the knowledge of native Malaysians known as the Orang Asli, who live a traditional lifestyle amidst the forest and knew where the orchid mantises live.
Written By: Mary Bates
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