2017 October Winning Picture

1710 JH Arachnorchis tentaculata sm

This month’s theme of “more than six flowers” was interpreted in one of two ways. There were six entries that had six or more plants and the other six entries had six or more flowers, predominately the flowers being on one inflorescence.

The competition was tight with Jane Higgs’ Caladenia tentaculata (syn. Arachnorchis tentaculata) winning by one vote. In South Australia it is known as the King Spider Orchid or Large Green Combed Spider and in Victoria is named the Eastern Mantis Orchid. As it is the largest of the Green Combed Spider Orchids, it is easily identified by its size. But there is variation and sometimes there are patches of small sized plants.

This happened to Rudie Kuiter on one of his orchid forays when he came across of patch of C. parva and small sized C. tentaculata growing together. In his book Orchid Pollinators of Victoria (page 29), he records how he distinguished the differences between the two species – “Except for some minor differences in the labellum they looked much the same. In C. tentaculata the upper margin teeth are longest, whilst in C. parva the central ones are longest. Labellum calli usually run into the red tip on C. parva and just short of the red in C. tentaculata, ...

Though I could not find these details recorded in any of the field guides I consulted, the differences were obvious when comparing the images of C. parva and C. tentaculata on the Retired Aussies website, www.retiredaussies.com


Kuiter, R. H., Orchid Pollinators of Victoria, Fourth Edition. Aquatic Photographics




Introducing Orchid Pollinators of Victoria: Part One of Two Parts

This week’s blog, Part One of Two Parts, is quoted directly from the introductory chapter (Pages 2&3) Orchid Pollinators of Victoria 4th Edition, 2016, Rudie Kuiter.  Over the years of photographing orchids and their pollinators, Rudie and his team have been discovering much of the hidden world of orchid pollinators.  In this first section he highlights the fallacy of the “one orchid-one pollinator” as well as touching briefly on the vast difference between the insects and their role in the ecosystem.

Click here for Part Two


Amongst flowering plants, orchids have evolved in their own special reproductive ways.  Their pollen is massed as waxy packages, pollinia, unlike like (sic) other flowers that produce masses of fine pollen grains that mostly go astray.  The pollinia are relatively heavy and the usually small creatures need to be strong fliers for cross pollination (see image below).  Orchids evolved with amazing strategies to attract specific carriers in order to transfer pollen between flowers of their species only, and in this way eliminating the need to produce great quantities.  Various insects, many moths, bees and even birds have been documented as pollinators of orchids around the world (v.d. Cingel, 2001).  A number of uniquely different examples of orchids attracting insects for their pollination evolved in Australia, especially in the more temperate southern zones originating from Gondwana times.  With very few exceptions the Victorian orchids are terrestrial, ground-dwellers, that rely on small insects such as fungus-gnats, native bees, wasps, ants and many attract only the males by sexual deception.  In the case no pollinators visits, many species may self-pollinate as a back up.

When taking an interest in orchids it seems difficult enough to identify some species.  Usually one looks and admires the amazing flowers that may resemble an insect and can be difficult to recognise as a flower at first.  An insect on a flower may be thought of something that spoils a picture – until taking an interest in the visitor!

160219 Anita Marquart Melangyna collatus on Caladenia rigida

Hoverfly on Caladenia rigida (syn Arachnorchis rigida)

I first learned about the orchid pollinators in Orchids of South Australia by Bates & Weber, 1990, an excellent book by today’s standard, but few were seen over the years by just being there at the right time when photographing orchids.  During preparation of the book on Caladenia spider-orchids, certain issues developed from questionable statements made in scientific papers about wasp-pollinators.  Of particular concern was about the one-to-one relationship – how only one wasp-species would be involved with only one spider-orchid species – and suggesting populations that were thought to represent the same species comprised different taxa if not pollinated by the same wasp-species.  A very different story emerged when monitoring the local spider-orchid populations to find the answers and it became clear that there was much more to it.  A site in Wonthaggi with a very large colony of Caladenia dilatata proved to be perfect for this study and also to photograph pollinators as it produces flowers for about four months.  It was found that a local wasp-pollinator species typically flies for a little over one month, thus this need to be investigated further.  Scientific publications on wasp-pollinators were generally based on short-term experiments, and usually employing baiting methods – moving flowers and often taking them to different sites.  Responses included unnatural behaviour or attracting sibling wasps at a non-local site.  It is certainly true that a particular flower may attract only one species of wasp a t a locality and a certain time in the season, but this reflects a very small part of the picture.  It can be different in the long-term, at certain localities or with a season.

The main study site was in coastal dunes, where in a very large population of Caladenia dilatata produced flowers for over four months from September, and under favourable Summer-conditions into January.  At least three congeneric (belonging to the same genus) thynniid wasps species were involved in this population.  The flying times were up to about 6 weeks for each wasp species, that were separated or slightly overlapping.  The flowering times in other populations of C. dilatata in Wonthaggi and Wilsons Promontory were usually about one month in each, and at the corresponding times to the study site the wasps visiting were the same species.  A close sibling C. parva in the Wonthaggi heathland habitats and early flowering C. dilatata were pollinated by the same species, but the later flowering C. tentaculata by a thynniid wasp of the different genus.

160219 Anita Marquart Melangyna collatus with pollinia

Hoverfly with pollinia

Whilst a flower may attract only one wasp species, the kairomones (chemical omitted by the orchid to attract a pollinator)  of a species may vary between flowers within in a population or when allopatric (growing in different geographical regions), just like colour or morphology.  Variations maybe in relation to locality, weather conditions, or ground chemistry and available pollinator.  Pollinators may evolve over time, but adaptions usually require many seasons and this would vary with location.  The observations made over several seasons suggest that more than one congeneric insect is involved in pollination depending on local or seasonal conditions, especially after a long drought.  Chiloglottis gunnii populations in Langwarrin were checked for pollinators since a decade-long drought and no action was seen for many seasons.  When wasps finally made an appearance they comprised different taxa of Neozeleboria the first season, but only one became the common and principal pollinator the following seasons.  Thynniid wasps are very localised as females lack wings and rely on the males to carry them around during copulation and to provide food.  It limits their travelling and their homing range may comprise just a few hundred metres.  Thynniid wasp are very vulnerable in small reserves isolated by land-clearing, and certain species have gone locally extinct due to conducting burns.  Insects form a crucial and fundamental part of an ecosystem, but their importance is never considered in the planned burning, showing a complete lack of understanding by people in charge.  So little is known of ecosystem’s foundations, but controlled burning continues – ruining precious habitats.  Orchid species failing to produce seed pods is an indication that pollinators were absent, probably gone locally extinct.  Orchid species that have a sexual association with thynniid wasp pollinators are localised and usually have geographically variable flowers.  The situation is different with Cryptostylis spp. And their pollinating male wasp Lissopimpla excelsa, as females are a strong flyers.  The flowers of Cryptostylis are geographically uniform in each species and the wasp is widespread.  Both sexes are very distinctive in colour that show no variation.  They are active over Spring and Summer and are great travellers.

To be continued …

Orchids, Insects and Fire

Recently, 10th February 2016, Anita Marquart, PhD student, Adelaide University spoke at the Field Naturalists Society of South Australia. She is a recipient of the Society’s Lirabenda Endowment Fund Research Grant.   At the meeting she gave a summary of her research – Orchids, Insects and Fire: Investigating the impacts of prescribe burning on orchid pollinators in Southern Australia. Though she has not finished collating the data she has kindly supplied a summary of her talk with her preliminary findings.

It is always encouraging to see research on our native orchids. They are the Barometer of the Bush, so the more we can discover about them, hopefully the more we will better understand how to manage our native bushland.


Orchids, Insects and Fire: Investigating the impacts of prescribed burning on orchid pollinators in Southern Australia

Anita Marquart, Renate Faast, José M. Facelli, Andrew Austin

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences,

The University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5005 Australia

PhD Project


Fire is an important ecological factor in Australian ecosystems. Orchids that depend on specific pollinators may be more susceptible to disturbance than more generalist species. Therefore, declines or changes in pollinator communities due to prescribed burns and wild fires could lead to reduced pollination success and consequently declines in orchid populations. The project combines traditional plant and insect ecology with advanced molecular techniques to identify orchid pollinators and assess their response to prescribed burns and wild fires. Insect relevant habitat characteristics (such as floral abundance, vegetation height, presence of logs, litter and standing litter) were assessed and trapping surveys of potential orchid pollinators were conducted in spring, before and after prescribed burns. The effect of both spring burns and autumn burns is being investigated.

Study sites are located in the Adelaide hills with always one burn and one adjacent control site respectively in Kersbrook Native Forest, Millbrook Reservoir, Para Wirra Recreation Park and South Para Reservoir. Some parts of the study sites in Kersbrook and Millbrook were affected by the Sampson Flat Bushfire. Affected sites are used to compare the effects on orchid pollinators after prescribed burns in contrast to wild fires.

Potential orchid pollinators are being identified using DNA barcoding with the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene. Sequencing results will be compared with existing databanks and confirmed using morphological identification. As the data accumulates it will build up a reference library of COI barcodes for the species found in the surveys.

The outcome of this research project might help to advise the optimal management of orchid species under fire-managed regimes in the Mount Lofty region of South Australia, as well as more generally in south eastern Australia.

160219 Anita Marquart Melangyna collatus on Caladenia rigida

A hoverfly, Melangyna collatus on Arachnorchis rigida syn Caldenia rigida (Rigid White Spider Orchid)


Orchids and their pollinators

Native bees, thyninne wasps and Syrphid flies are known orchid pollinators of South Australian orchid species. Orchids of main interest for this study were Caladenia rigida, Caladenia behrii, Caladenia tentaculata and Glossodia major. Caladenia tentaculata and C. behrii are sexually deceptive orchids and are known to be pollinated by thynnine wasps (Bates 2011). In contrast, C. rigida is food advertising and uses a broad range of bee and fly species, such as native bees and hoverflies (Faast et al. 2009). Glossodia major is a generalist in its pollination strategy and is using small native bees of several genera (Bates 2011, personal observations).

Preliminary findings

Syrphid flies were successfully separated into different species using DNA barcoding methods. Results show that we have two dominating species on our field sites in the Adelaide hills. Both species, Melangyna collatus and Symosyrphus grandicornis are common native Australian species. Both species were caught with orchid pollinia attached and were observed on Caladenia rigida flowers.

First findings suggest that hoverflies don’t seem to be much affected by prescribed burns or bushfires. Syrphid fly numbers vary greatly between the years of sampling, but we did not find a significant impact of prescribed burning or the Samson Flat bushfire.

Statistical analyses for the data on syrphids, native bees and thynnine wasps are currently underway.

Preliminary findings suggest that a range of pollinators are still present on field sites after prescribed burns and even after bushfires. Nevertheless, some specific species might be more sensitive to fires and might have disappeared from the study sites. For example, orchids relying on one species of wasp could be more affected by changes in the abundance of their pollinator after fire, than orchids that are pollinated by a number of different insects.

We will have to analyse our results in more detail to look into the specific species composition for the insect families, especially for native bees and thynnines, rather than looking at overall abundance.

160219 Anita Marquart Melangyna collatus with pollinia

Hoverfly, Melangyna collatus with orchid pollinia attached


Faast R, Farrington L, Facelli JM, Austin AD (2009). Bees and white spiders: unravelling the pollination syndrome of Caladenia rigida (Orchidaceae). Australian Journal of Botany 57, 315–325.

Bates, R. J. (2011). South Australia’s Native Orchids. Native Orchid Society of South Australia.