“He’s exactly the worth of the odor he’s carrying in his leg.”

Well, at least that’s what Dave Roubik, the scientist featured in the video we’re sharing, says about the male orchid bee. Certainly, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when choosing a mate, but this is one that definitely took us by surprise!

Image: Orchid Bee (male) approaches flower

Euglossa bazinga; named after the catchphrase of Sheldon Cooper, a character from the Big Bang Theory
Source: Wikipedia

Male orchid bees are stingerless collectors of smells. While their female counterparts are busy off building nests and collecting food, every male of the 250 species zips around from place to place to collect their specific cocktail of scents. These collections of compounds are their only hope to attract the attention of a female orchid bee, and show that they’re the one they should procreate with! 1

And where do these bees store all of these scents? Oh, in their leg pouches, of course.

So let’s take a look at how these little perfumers go about it with this video from the Smithsonian featuring entomologist, Dave Roubik!

The funny thing about orchid bees is…

… Even though their name may suggest that they’re dependant on orchids for survival, this doesn’t appear to be true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

In a 2011 article from UC Berkeley on a recently concluded study, they wrote that “to their surprise, the scientists found that the bees evolved at least 12 million years earlier than their orchid counterparts. Additionally, they found that the compounds produced by the orchids only accounted for 10 percent of the compounds collected by their pollinators. The remaining 90 percent could be coming from other sources, including tree resins.” 3

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So in actuality, orchids need bees more than the bees need the orchids. The bees have a whole slew of other options for their scent collection… while the orchids have adapted to the bees’ habits. When those change, they have to as well.

But these plants are doing what they can to keep these pollinators coming back. Since species of the orchid bee are looking to collect specific scent compounds, the orchids that rely on them have adapted their own chemical compounds to attract the bees, and some may alter them in accordance to a change of taste. 4

(Does this relationship seem familiar to you? It’s sounding awfully similar to some that I’ve experienced between humans, but hey, maybe that’s just me.)

Orchids are a particularly unique type of plant.

They come in all shapes, sizes, and smells, and it’s mostly on the grounds of trickery for their own survival (but who’s to judge). Just take this one species for example; does it remind you at all of our buzzing little friends?

Image: Orchid that looks like a bee

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)
Source: naturalhistoryman // Flickr

We wrote about how and why orchids grow in so many impressive varieties a little while back. Take a look!

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Orchids: The World’s Most Beautiful Liars?

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Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein 

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A few of them have gathered here in this category!

Animals on EWC

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  1. Buchmann, Stephen. “Orchid Bees (The Euglossines).” US Forest Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2018. <https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/orchid_bees.shtml>.
  2. “Male Orchid Bees Mix Their Own Cologne Carefully.” YouTube. Smithsonian Channel, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 July 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=84&v=iXOuwk7Z1bo>.
  3. Yang, Sarah. “Bees Outpace Orchids in Evolution.” Berkeley News. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 19 July 2018. <http://news.berkeley.edu/2011/09/22/bees-outpace-orchids-in-evolution/>.
  4. Yang, Sarah. “Bees Outpace Orchids in Evolution.” Berkeley News. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 19 July 2018. <http://news.berkeley.edu/2011/09/22/bees-outpace-orchids-in-evolution/>.

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.