Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Bee or not to Bee

Beesheva-Sheva ApelbaumMy friend Yael's’ husband is an avid photographer. They live in Israel and frequently go on hikes where he photographs the most amazing wildflowers.  Yael has been generous in sharing his pictures with us and when we get them, it’s a  real feast for the eyes. 

Last week on her blog,  Yael posted a shot of Wild Orchids in Israel. Looking at the picture, I noticed that one of the flowers had petals that looked suspiciously like bees or wasps.  I checked my insect guide and sure enough, the carpenter bee is almost identical in color and decoration.   I’ve pasted in a copy of a carpenter bee on Yael’s original photograph below. I challenge you to figure out which one is the real bee and which is the orchid.  As you can see, the bee and flower are a match made in heaven.

The orchid has developed the specialty of mimicking the look and scent of a female bee in the hopes of convicting male bees to stop by.  The bee, on the other hand, learned to sip nectar (most wasps are predatory), make honey, and the specialized ability to collect and carry pollen, which is important for the orchid.

Bee Orchid
Nectar (I’m told that the bee orchid doesn't  produce much nectar) Defense from other animals (bees are known to sting)
Pollen (some bees eat it or use it to make honey) More efficient pollination (predictable and longer range)
Easy way to  locate food (by smell and sight)  
Needed chemicals  
What's in it for me?

Orchid and BeeIf you think about this for a second, its actually quite an amazing achievement.  A flower  and an insect have developed a blossoming relationship that has lasted for over 50 of million years.  

How did the orchid come to look like a bee?  Did it  just happen by chance? Does it represent the most successful relationship between an insect and a flower?  And if that's the case, then why don’t we see more flowers in the shape of other flying insects, like flies and beetles?

It would have been interesting to witness how this relationship  first started.  Maybe it was something along these lines:

Ben Bee: Hi there! Don’t I know you from somewhere?
Olivia Orchid: Well, I…
Ben Bee: I have to tell you, you are the most beautiful bee I’ve ever seen.
Olivia Orchid:

Actually, I only look and smell like a bee, but I'm really a flower. Sorry… can I at least interest you in some perfume?

Ben Bee: A flower!!!  Oh, I have mistaken you for someone else.  Sure, I would love some!
Olivia Orchid: Got plenty of that, here you go
Ben Bee:

(Completely covered in pollen).  This perfume smells delicious, its heavenly.  I can’t wait to tell the hive about you. 

Olivia Orchid:

So you think you'll be back?

Ben Bee: You betcha!
Olivia Orchid:

I’ll be waiting patiently…

Ben Bee: Gotta buzz now, how do I get out of here?
Olivia Orchid:

Just turn around, put some pollen on that stigma and you’re good to go.


  1. You are incredible--who would have so quickly been able to find such a perfect match!

    I beelieve you should bee awarded the beeautiful imagination award for beeing amazing!

  2. Hi Sheva,

    The visual proof you brought about the perfect match between the bee and the orchid is absolutely amazing. Such a great idea! And thanks for the compliments. I am glad you enjoy the photos of the wildflowers of Israel. It is a great joy going looking for them. Luckily Israel has such great variety.
    The bee orchids (Ophris) are the biggest cheaters of nature. They allure the bees by their looks and by pheromones, which also imitate those of the bees, but have no nectar to offer. The poor male bee, thinking he found a mate, is simply used for carrying out the pollination service. They developed this perfect match by years of evolution. This particular one, the Ophrys Carmeli, is the one with the most perfect resemblance to bees, as you so nicely proved.
    Kol Hakavod ve Chag Pesach Sameach!

  3. You are such a Honey Bee by yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Do you use sometimes your sting?? Actually I don't believe that!!!
    Yes, I agree with Dawn!!!!
    Happy Passover Sheva girl!!!
    Big hug to you!

  4. Thank you all for the comments.

    Yael: Don’t worry, I only sting people when they misbeeeeehave. ;-)

    Uri: That is very interesting, I didn’t know that this specific orchid doesn’t produce nectar (I thought that all of them did). I do think that there has to be some exchange (the bee has to get something in return). Maybe it collects some of the chemicals and uses them?

    Dawn: You are a poet, and the bees know it (it’s a variation from the Scarlet Pimpernel: “Sink me, the lady’s a poet and I did not know it.”)

    Happy Passover and Easter everyone!