Image credit: RBG Kew/Michenau and Fournel
While researching orchids on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, Claire Micheneau noticed that the flowers were being pollinated from an unknown source. Unable to find the culprit during the day, she set up motion-activated cameras and surveilled the flowers at night.
What she discovered was that a species of cricket, formerly unknown to science, was engaging in some peculiar behavior for its order.
The flowers of the Angraecum genus of orchids. Image credit: RBG Kew
Micheneau was in Reunion studying the Angraecum genus of orchids. This group of flowers is best known for the research Charles Darwin conducted on them in Madagascar. Looking at the comet orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale), he hypothesized that they were pollinated by moths with long tongues that could dip into the nectar cups of the flowers. This theory proven to be true many years after Darwin's death.
On Reunion, however, pollination had remained a mystery because none of the usual agents are present. Micheneau explained that:
We knew from monitoring pollen content in the flowers that pollination was taking place. However, we did not observe it during the day...the moths that are the main Angraecum pollinators on Madagascar are not found on Reunion and until we started our research the pollination of this genus on Reunion had always been an open question.
Seeing that, in fact, a cricket was at least partially responsible for the pollination, Micheneau said, was "thrilling." It demonstrates, she explained, a "truly surprising shift in the pollination of Angraecum."
A "raspy cricket" carrying orchid pollen on its head. Image credit: RBG Kew/Michenau and Fournel
It also represents some unusual behavior for crickets—or more formerly, members of the Orthoptera order—which are better known as omnivores that actually eat plants and other insects. Why the raspy cricket eats nectar instead of plants themselves is unknown, but Micheneau commented that "we think the raspy cricket has evolved to eat nectar to compensate for the general scarcity of other insects on Reunion."
Her research has also shown that two species of songbirds have evolved as orchid pollinators on Reunion. The raspy cricket, however, has proven to be much more efficient. Orchids populated by crickets showed higher rates of pollination and fruit set than those frequented by the bird species.
Video credit: RBG Kew
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