Bucket Orchid

The bucket orchid (Coryanthes) is a tropical orchid native to South America, Central America, Mexico, and Trinidad. It has a special symbiotic relationship with a bee.

The orchid has a steep-sided flower with two glands that secrete a clear liquid into the “bucket” of the flower. A tunnel opens from the side of the fluid pool, and the flower’s pollen and stigma are in the top of the tunnel. The flower produces aromatic oils which give off a fragrance that attracts male orchid bees (Euglossine). The bees collect the waxy, aromatic substance from the flower and store it in pouches on their back legs.

As the bees gather the oils, they accidentally fall into the pool of fluid. The lip of the bucket is lined with hairs pointing downward so the bee can’t climb out. There are some small knobs which the bee can grip to climb out, but those knobs lead them into the tunnel. It’s the only way out! As the bee enters the tunnel, the tunnel restricts, and the bee is trapped!

The story doesn’t end there. While the bee is stuck in the tunnel, the bucket orchid glues pollen packets to the bee’s thorax. The glue takes up to 45 minutes to dry, so the orchid holds the bee in place. Once the glue has set, the orchid releases the bee. The bee flies to another orchid, where the process is repeated. This time, as the bee navigates the tunnel, the pollen from the first orchid is deposited on the stigma of the second flower so the orchid can reproduce.

The male bees use the aromatic oils they collect from the orchid to attract females for mating. Without the orchid, the bee could not reproduce. Without the bee, the bucket orchid could not reproduce. They are completely dependent on each other in a mutualism or symbiotic relationship.

Some people try to suggest that the bee and the bucket orchid evolved together into this relationship by pure chance. Looking at this whole complicated process and how beautifully it works, we believe that it was designed by a Master Designer.
© Roland Earnst

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