Flowers and mosquitoes and flies, oh my!

There is an assumption that flowers, at least those that use animals pollinators, evolve towards specialization. This, in turn, leads to the evolution of “pollination syndromes,” in which the morphology of flowers coevolves with its pollinator, but retains some generalizability. Hence, we may have “bee syndrome” or a “hummingbird syndrome” flowers, with corresponding floral shapes, smells, rewards (nectar), and position of anthers or stamens. This results in some wonderfully shaped flowers, the vibrant colors and intense smells.

One of the most interesting “syndromes” (I put this in quotes because these are pretty loose in both definition and ecological reality) are the flowers that smell of dead flesh. These include the largest flowers in the world, with truly magnificent displays, like Amorphophallus or Rafflesia. Recently, a flower here in North Carolina is in bloom, Fatsia japonica. As you may have guessed from the name, it is not native.

I find several things interesting about this plant. First, it blooms in November to December here, when not much is blooming. Second, it has an odor that is musky, right between sweet and death. Finally, it seems to attract a remarkable diversity of insects. In one afternoon, I noticed mosquitoes, flower-feeding crane flies, bees, wasps, ants, muscid flies, and calliphorid flies (see the photos). It would seem to be quite a “syndrome” breaking flower, splitting the difference to attract the largest diversity of pollinators.

2016-02-03T21:48:06+00:00December 11th, 2015|News|

About the Author:

I am an assistant professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University, with an abiding interest in arthropod vectors of disease and their ecology.