A Mediterranean orchid that is pollinated exclusively by a single species of wasp

Ophrys speculum is an easy to recognize orchid, owing to its vivid blue, glossy, enamel-like lip, which is fringed with long, red-brown hairs. It is as if the flower reflects the sky of the Mediterranean, where this striking orchid is found; ‘speculum’ means mirror in Latin.

Commonly named as Mirror orchid, Mirror bee orchid, and Looking-glass orchid, Ophrys speculum is widespread in the Mediterranean, from Portugal and Spain in the west to Turkey and Lebanon in the east and also in North Africa. However, it is absent from Cyprus and much of Italy, and is rare in France and Crete.

This species is pollinated exclusively by the wasp Dasyscolia ciliata. Males are lured by the flower, which resembles the female wasp. The flower and wasp are both hairy and the blue patch on the lip appears to mimic the reflection of the sky on the wasp’s wings. Moreover, the floral scent resembles the mating pheromones of the female wasps, and males become highly excited and try to copulate with the flowers, pollinating them in the process.


Top photo: Ophrys speculum from Spain by ©Miguel Olivera 

Bottom photo: Pseudocopulation between Dasyscolia ciliata and Ophrys speculum by ©Carlos Enrique Hermosilla

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The Tarantula Killers of Texas

An excellent example of behavioral fine tuning during descent with modification (evolution)

Spiders are considered apex predators of the small world inhabited by insects and other small terrestrial arthropods. But, being a spider has its hazards. One of those are the mud daubers, the name from my grandmother that I first knew them by. Some of these predatory wasps are members of Hymenoptera family Pompilidae and go by the common name of spider wasps. These winged marauders hunt down and kill spiders that are often larger than themselves to provide a sufficient cache of food sufficient for one of their larvae over its entire five instar stage development, i.e., one big spider for each descendent. Adult spider wasps feed on plants. Pompilid wasps are atypical among families of insect Order Hymenoptera that evolved eusocial behavior in the Cretaceous Period. (also see Evolutionary Origins of Eusociality in Insects). Rather, they lead a solitary life.

Classification: Class Insecta, Order Hymenoptera, Suborder Apocrita, Superfamily Vespoidea (see note), Family Pompilidae

Note: Ribosomal RNA analysis indicates that Vespoidea is paraphyletic (i.e., members have no common ancestor) and should be resolved into multiple superfamilies.

Upper image is from a 1867 issue of American Naturalist (Vol. 1, No. 3, May, 1867, pp. 137-141) article entitled The Tarantula Killers of Texas, by G. Lincecum
Lower image: Spider wasp airlifting spider prey, by Peter Wöhrer