Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Molecular mimicry

Perth scientists have discovered the chemical used by a local orchid to con male wasps into believing it is a female ready to mate.

According to the team, WA native warty hammer orchid (Drakaea livida) pollinates by attracting a male Thynnidae wasp by releasing 2-hydroxymethl-3-(3- methylbutyl)-5-methylpyrazine, a six-membered pyrazine ring, containing two nitrogen atoms and four carbon atomsthat females release when calling for a mate.

The male wasp lands on the orchid expecting to find a female and in the process transfers the pollen from anther to stigma in a process they call pseudo-copulation, according to a recent science article.

The team used gas chromatography with electro- and tenographic detection. The orchid chemically attracts wasps over greater distances, rather than the wasps being visually attracted.

Did you know? The Drakaea orchid is also known as the hammer orchid because of its shape and movement.