Bees Don’t Really Need Orchids

Orchids need bees more than bees need them. Scientists have long known that male orchid bees use orchid scents to court females. Many tropical species like Stanhopeas and Cycnoches rely on their perfumes to attract amorous male bees as pollinators. The males collect scent compounds using special brushes on their legs, and pollinate flowers in the process. Experts had believed that bees and orchids co-evolved, and each depended on the other, but it turns out that bees don’t really need orchids. New research from UC Berkeley shows that the bees appeared 12 million years before the orchids, and orchids provide only 10% of the fragrances which the bees collect. Instead, tree resins and fungi make up most of the males’ colognes. Rather than co-evolving, the orchids’ evolution follows the insects’ preferences.

With bee populations declining globally, this new info highlights risks for orchid extinctions. Researcher Santiago Ramirez notes “Many of these orchids don’t produce any other type of reward, such as nectar, that would attract other species of bee pollinators. If you lose one species of bee, you could lose three to four species of orchids.”

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4 Comments on “Bees Don’t Really Need Orchids”

  1. Dana Says:

    Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

  2. Hanna at Orchid Care Says:

    I’m not a scientist but it makes sense to me that flowers which are earthbound rely more heavily on insects that can fly distances. However, I was shocked and saddened by the fact that declining bee populations may cause certain species of orchids to disappear.

    I can’t help wonder why nature has not allowed of encouraged orchids to evolve in a way that would safeguard them from extinction.

  3. Marc Says:

    Hi Hanna. Nature has encouraged orchids to evolve this way for eons, because for eons their biggest challenge was to convince a pollinator to take their pollen to another flower of the same exact species in very crowded jungles. Relying on a single species of pollinator, as most orchids do, has been an ingenious solution when surrounded by so many other flowers. Sadly, it does seem to work against the orchids in this era of extinctions.

  4. nancy Says:

    Good article. Thanks!