Doing so is simply "a byproduct of the orchid's irresistible mimicry," Gaskett said. After many weeks of microscopy work, researcher Claire Winnick "sent me a message saying she had finally found the sperm," Gaskett recalled. Immediately after the wasps finished, the scientists rushed orchids to the lab. Perhaps ironically, tongue orchids are incredibly good at enticing males. Sex takes a lot out of the wasps, energy the males could better spend on trying to actually sire offspring.
Even though they are, in a way, bleeding the wasps dry, these blossoms still have the highest success at getting pollinated ever discovered in a sexually deceptive orchid. Orchids may be enthralling to humans, but our love of these flowers only goes so far. After many weeks of microscopy work, researcher Claire Winnick "sent me a message saying she had finally found the sperm," Gaskett recalled. These were described to her as "pseudo-copulating," "but when I saw these wasps mating with these tongue orchids, it didn't look 'pseudo' at all," she said. Happy endings To see if the wasps experienced "happy endings," the researchers monitored the wasps and orchids in the field. If these orchids are costing the wasps such vital resources, shouldn't the males eventually stop? The discovery sheds new light on the extremes to which flowers can evolve their beauty. Some wasps, on the other hand, find orchids so enchanting that they sexually climax while visiting them. Gaskett, Winnick and their colleague Marie Herberstein will detail their findings in the June issue of the journal American Naturalist. Perhaps ironically, tongue orchids are incredibly good at enticing males. A number of orchids mimic female insects to entice visits from males looking for love. In other words, the orchids simply want to lure the wasps in as much as possible — them climaxing is a side effect. Giving males these happy endings probably does not in itself help the orchids any. This research began when evolutionary biologist Anne Gaskett at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, saw these liaisons between wasps and orchids. Further investigation of roughly insect species that are fooled into having sex with orchids revealed that more than 90 percent of these dupes have females that can still produce offspring even without sperm from males. Scientists had thought such deception was harmless, but researchers now find males of a species called orchid-dupe-wasps go all the way with Australian tongue orchids, wasting their precious bodily fluids in the process. Doing so is simply "a byproduct of the orchid's irresistible mimicry," Gaskett said. When these males rendezvous with other flowers, they then act as unwitting couriers of this pollen, helping the plants breed. This discovery suggests an arms race of sorts could evolve. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. It benefits male pollinators to figure out that sex with the orchids is costly for them, and so they should evolve to avoid the flowers. Immediately after the wasps finished, the scientists rushed orchids to the lab. Sex takes a lot out of the wasps, energy the males could better spend on trying to actually sire offspring. What keeps these deluded wasps going? No sperm needed The secret behind this doomed love affair seems to be the fact that females of this wasp species can still produce offspring even without sperm from males.
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