Hammer Orchid and Thynnid Wasp

The hammer orchid found only in Australia produces a “dummy” on a stem attached to a hinge that will only bend toward the orchid’s flower.

The dummy on the stem resembles a female thynnid wasp in shape and color. At the right time for fertilization, the orchid releases a pheromone that mimics the female wasp’s scent. Thynnid wasps are unusual in that the female is flightless and sits on a stem or blade of grass waiting for a male wasp to carry her away to a food source for mating. When a male thynnid wasp is tricked and attempts to carry away the dummy, he is thrown backward by the hinge into the orchid where he is powdered with pollen.

The male wasp then leaves (in humiliation?) and may be fooled by another orchid depositing the pollen he picked up and pollinating the second orchid. This process may be repeated more times (assuming that the wasp is a slow learner). This is apparently the only way the orchid can be pollinated. If the trick didn’t work, the hammer orchid would become extinct.

Think of all the things that must be right for this trick to work. The hinge must move in the right direction and not be too weak or too stiff. The stem from the hinge to the dummy wasp must be exactly the right length. The male wasp must be programmed to grab a flightless female from a stem. The orchid must produce exactly the right complex chemical scent at exactly the right time to attract the wasp.

Could the hammer orchid and thynnid wasp have developed all of this by chance? It sounds to me like this system was designed. It also makes me think that the Designer must have a sense of humor.
© Roland Earnst

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