With a theme of Orchids and Insects for the November meeting it was hoped that there would be some entries with pollinators and therefore there would be two categories Insect Visitors and Pollinators. This month’s article will feature the Pollinator section and Insect Visitors in the next month.
In all there were four potential pollinator photographs. The insects were either scrounging around at the base of the column or else they had the pollinia attached to them. Unfortunately only one was a true pollinator so the category became Insects with Pollinia. The winning photograph of Arachnorchis brumalis with an unidentified hoverfly was taken by Chris Davey. Interestingly the other two pictures also featured Arachnorchis species with the hover fly Simosyrphus grandicornis. Resembling a wasp but minus the sting, this species is one of the common hover flies native to Australia.
Called Hover Flies owing to their ability to hover motionless in one spot, they are also known as Flower Flies because they are often found hovering around as well as pollinating flowers. It is not surprising, therefore, to find them around orchids. Yet instead of being called pollinators they are non-pollinators (Bates & Weber 1990). They visit the orchids, forage inside the flower and may even manage to collect some pollinia₁ but that is all. They may not necessarily visit another flower of the same species but if they do, they will fail to deliver the pollinia to the stigma2.
Rudie Kuiter agrees with Bates that hover flies are not orchid pollinators but just when we think we have worked it out he adds “but we have at least one orchid in Victoria that is pollinated by hoverflies and witnessed now several times and this is Caladenia catenata” (synonym Petalochilus catenatus). Notwithstanding the case for this species, it would appear that in most cases hoverflies remove pollinia so that it is not available to a more specific pollinator.
Why then are the hover flies attracted to the orchids? Is it for food? An internet image search revealed that hover flies visit the flowers of many different genera including Thelymitra and Diuris. This is interesting because flowers are the food source for hover flies but though many orchids promise food, many species do not produce the nectar and pollen (as a food source) that they desire. Diuris and Thelymitra belong to this group of non-nectar producing flower. Other orchids that don’t produce nectar include Gastrodia, Dipodium and the Duck orchids. Again, there are orchids such as Crytostylis which produce minimal nectar and with Prasophyllum the nectar is hidden in cells that require puncturing – not a good food source!
Having discussed hover flies as non-pollinators, in this month’s competition, which photograph had a pollinator? – It came last and was Robert Lawrence’s photograph of a native bee on a Dipodium pardalinum, another non-nectar producing orchid. The story of this photograph was featured in Photographing Orchid Pollinators, April 2014 Journal as well as in a previous blog on Photographing Pollinators.
Smith James, Information Centre, South Australian Museum, personal communications
Kuiter Rudie personal communications
Bates and Weber, Orchids of South Australia, 1990
Australian Museum, http://australianmuseum.net.au/Hover-flies Accessed 4th December 2014
Brown, et al, Field Guide to the Orchids of Western Australia, 2013
Jones, Native Orchids of Australia Including the Island Territories, 2006
Bates, South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011 DVD-ROM
Martin, The Vocabulary of Orchids: An Amateur’s Perspective, 2005
1Pollinia is basically a coherent compact mass of pollen that allows the pollen to be transported as a single unit
2The stigma is a sticky depression (or swelling) at the front of the column, the receiving surface for the pollinia that is necessary for germination.