10 Weird Ways Organisms Reproduce

Floral Deception
Ophrys apifera has learned to dress up like a lady bee in order to attract frisky pollinators. Irantzu_Arbaizagoitia/iStock/Thinkstock

Most flowers have an I-pat-your-back-you-pat-mine relationship with the pollinators that help them reproduce. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, for instance, get a delicious sip of nectar in return for carrying some grains of pollen from one flower to the next. Once this happens, the receiving flower can start the process of making the seeds that will grow into new flowers.

But certain species of orchids find this strategy old hat, not to say downright boring. With pollinators hopping from one flower to its neighbor, orchids worry about inbreeding. Well, as far as we know, they don't actually worry, but evolution has resulted in a far more novel — in fact truly bizarre — method of self-replicating for these organisms.

In mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, there's a species called Ophrys apifera, better known as the bee orchid. In an incredible trompe l'oeil effect, the flower looks precisely like the rear of a female bee with its head buried in a blue-petalled flower. Not only that, Ophrys mimics the scent of said female bee, and it's even a little furry to add to the sensory illusion. This deception is so perfect that even its seeming imperfections turn out to be advantageous.

Male bees, seduced by the floral wizardry, fall to mating so vigorously with the flowers that they dislodge pollen packs pre-loaded with a special adhesive that sticks to their backs. But according to plan, the deception only lasts so long. After some frantic efforts at achieving erotic bliss, the bee wises up to the fact that he's been had and staggers away in a fit of frustration. He'll wander a fair distance collecting his wits before he falls for the trick again and, if all goes well for perfidious Ophrys, unwittingly deposits his pollen payload in another bee orchid flower.

The bee's frustration plays into the orchid's reproductive strategy, as the distance traveled while the bee was cooling his temper prevents inbreeding [source: Pollan]. Of course, bees aren't the only ones seduced by orchid magic — think of all the orchid plants flowering on windowsills the world over.