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Creating a buzz

If it looks like a bee and smells like a bee, it may be a flower

In extraordinary example of evolution, bee orchids trick male bees into ‘mating’ with them, to help disperse pollen

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Drone bee orchid, Ophrys holosericea, seen near to the Rakit parking lot in the Carmel mountains, May 7, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel).
Drone bee orchid, Ophrys holosericea, seen near to the Rakit parking lot in the Carmel mountains, May 7, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel).

Plant enthusiasts are making beelines to the Carmel Mountain range in northern Israel to snatch some final glimpses of spring’s bee orchids, which deploy one of nature’s most extraordinary examples of trickery.

Bee orchids dupe male insects into “having sex” with them so that they can dab them with sticky balls of pollen and use them to help fertilize other orchid flowers.

To male bees or wasps, the intricately marked, velvety flowers of the orchid not only look, but also smell and feel like real female virgins.

The plant uses the same amount of the same sex pheromones that the female insects use to attract male suitors.

Every species of orchid in the genus Ophrys casts its spell on a particular species of pollinator insect.

Bee orchids, of which there are some 40 species, nine of them in Israel, grow  mainly in the the Eastern Mediterranean, although they are found as far afield as England, Scandinavia, the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea.

Like all orchids, they are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and must not be picked or disturbed.

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