It was u butterflies that capped them. Thomas Rupp, a doctoral student in ecology at the Paris-Lodron University in Salzburg, was walking in a mountain forest with his teammates near Athens, Greece, when he saw them: insects that, when in shape of caterpillars, they feed on a special type of plant called Aristolochia microstoma. “Everywhere I saw this butterfly fly,” says Rupp, “I knew there must be one. Aristolochia plants around ”.
Rupp rushed to find the unusual flowers of the plant hidden among stones and leaves. They are a dark merlot red, and look like a swollen bulb connected to a narrow tube embodied by a small pore called a stoma. The whole thing is very similar to entering an intestinal tract. It is not. It’s even weirder.
Ecologists have long suspected that these flowers use a clever way to attract visitors, who will carry their pollen with them to other flowers of the same species when they leave. Most flowers offer colored petals or tons of sweet nectar in exchange for this service. But not A. microstoma. “They’re liars,” says Stefan Dötterl, Rupp’s advisor and ecologist. “They promise something. They seem to offer a reward that they do no to get. So they deceive pollinators into pollination. ”
A tactic of “deceptive pollination” is not understood – some orchids do has evolved to looks and feels like bugs trying to mate with them, and the famous corpse flower attracts insects looking for rotten meat. Ma in a study published in May in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the team found that these plants attract pollinators using a different smell of death: the smell of dead beetles. It’s the first report of a plant smelling like decaying invertebrates, and Rupp’s team shows how this unique evolutionary strategy works to trap insensitive flies.
Needless to say, the flies are also weird. Phoridae, the family of flies that includes “coffin flies,” are known to lay eggs in the carcasses of rotting beetles. Forids also frequent human remains. They can be indicators of where a body is buried, and scientists can use it to estimate how long a person has been dead. “These are really important insects that people use for forensic entomology, and here they visit a flower that is thought to mimic carcasses or remains,” he says. Anne Gaskett, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who was not involved with the work. Gaskett studies how plants, mainly orchids, deceive pollinators. “It’s a great match of what you can expect and what they’ve really found.”