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Fake Date

Campsoscolia ciliata is a type of wasp. The plant that runs it through a fake-out mating routine is the Ophrys speculum. Learn more on this Moment of Science.

You’re a lonely guy looking for love. You check out the personals: hey, there’s somebody who sounds just right! You meet her for dinner, rub against her a lot while dancing, and then when you think it’s true love at last, you find out she’s a plant.

Well, that’s a strange ending to our story. But if this were to happen to you, you’d know how Campsoscolia ciliata feels. Campsoscolia ciliata is a type of wasp. And the plant that runs it through a fake-out mating routine is the Ophrys speculum, a type of orchid.

Orchids want wasps to pay attention to their blooms. That’s because flowering plants spread pollen partly by getting it stuck on insects, which inadvertently rub it off on the next plant. Orchids have a clever strategy to bring this about–they imitate female wasps that are ready to mate, and let male wasps give it a try.

The trick is done in two ways. One is by producing a bloom that looks a bit like a female wasp, with a covering of red fuzz. More importantly, though, the orchid produces a chemical mix that is very close to the one used by female wasps to signal their readiness to mate. In fact, orchids produce a stronger scent than actual female wasps do, making them seem super-attractive.

The male wasps, thinking this is true love at last, attempt to mate with the orchid. This of course doesn’t work, but it does serve to rub the wasp’s body all along the orchid’s bloom, getting plenty of pollen stuck. Male wasps go home to take cold showers, but orchids reproduce like crazy.

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