Day 346 of 366 Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

Today I became engrossed in reading about orchids. Nothing exciting about that you might say? Well no, but I was lured by the beautiful illustrations of orchids (by Anne Hayes) that I saw on the Australian Geographic website.

Or should I say that I waslured by deception  nothing else. I clicked on a link to look at the lovely sketches online. Once I was there looking at all those beautiful orchids. I was held captive …. hook, line and sinker! What I discovered was a lot of these plants actually deceive by luring insects into their flowers to pollinate them. Some lure by giving out female hormones of the insect species that just happens to come by … or by other tricks of the trade.

Grampians duck orchidThis orchid pretends to be a female to deceive

Grampians duck orchid
This orchid pretends to be a female insect: sexual deception

Well, I don’t actually think it ‘just happens’ at all. The orchid knows very well what it is doing when it lures the insect in for its own means. And it is not this simple either. Different orchids have different ways of luring different insects! How clever is this?

But wait …  it gets even more complicated than my casual observation. The Australian Geographic is full of information about the deception of orchids folks and I couldn’t get enough of it today:

“There are many ways in which Australian orchids are pollinated, but the majority require a third-party insect pollinator to transfer pollen from one plant to another. Some provide a pollen or nectar food reward; others simply mimic food-rewarding plants but provide no treat.

One of the more interesting pollination syndromes in Australia is sexual deception. Male thynnine wasps are drawn in by pheromones, and then copulate with the flowers, thinking they are female wasps. This transmits pollen between plants.

See what I mean about this web of deception? The piece ends by saying “these relationships are very specific, with many individual species of orchid pollinated by individual species of wasp.”

And when I finished reading about orchids, I thought I should find out about the carnivorous plants like the Venus Fly Trap which lures insects and then closes its foliage trapping them. What deception do these delightful little sweethearts practice, I wondered?


The Venus Fly Trap at work …

They have tiny sensitive hairs on their surface so that when an insect happens innocently along and touches one of these hairs, the plant reacts. However, the plant doesn’t want to waste time on worthless insects so it has a mechanism built-in to alert it. This is the deception that this plant uses:

When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap closes ONLY if a different hair is contacted within twenty seconds of the first strike. The requirement of redundant triggering in this mechanism serves as a safeguard against a waste of energy in trapping objects with no nutritional value.”

Now this sounds simple enough, but because there is a nutritional requirement, these plants need a percentage of particular insects. How they figure this one out must be innate within them.

“With the Venus Flytrap, prey is limited to beetles, spiders and other crawling arthropods. In fact, the diet is 33% ants, 30% spiders, 10% beetles, and 10% grasshoppers, with fewer than 5% flying insects.”

Queen of Sheba This orchid deceives. It mimics other nectar plants to attract bees.

Queen of Sheba
This orchid deceives. It mimics other nectar plants to attract bees.

Have you had enough of the deception that plants use to help them along in life? Well, here is something else to consider: what about the deception and lies that humans use to make their lives a little easier? Apparently, we all tell as many as 200 lies per day without even knowing we are doing it! Here is the evidence:

“The hard-to-believe figure , which of course includes the many innocent “white lies” we hear each day, was given further credence in a 2002 study by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts, who found that on average, people told two to three lies in a ten-minute conversation.”  (

Can you believe this? If plants are practicing deception without blinking an eyelid, it is quite possible that we do exactly the same thing … and probably for the same reason: self-preservation!  And then I found some information to back this up: (

“Evolutionary biology teaches us that the tendency to deceive has an ancient pedigree. We find it in many forms, at all levels, throughout the natural kingdom….Deceptive creatures have an edge over their competitors in the relentless struggle to survive and reproduce that drives the engine of evolution. As well-honed survival machines, human beings are also naturally deceptive…”

But it is not all down-hill from here folks. We don’t have to start worrying that we are natural-born liars. No, I am not talking about ‘bad’ lies here. A little deception is essential to our humanity. Firstly, we practice self-deception because we cannot bear to see the truth, which then leads us to deceive others in turn.

Metallic sun orchid - this one also deceives, it mimics nectar.

Metallic sun orchid – this one also deceives, it mimics nectar.

And this is not about moral failure or mental illness either. No, it is more to do with social complexity:

“Sheer social complexity compelled our pre-human ancestors to become progressively more intelligent, and as they did so they also became increasingly adept at social gamesmanship; the wheeling, dealing, bluffing, and conniving…Once established, the need to cope with skilled social players became a selection pressure that escalated cognitive development even further…”

The propensity for self-deception probably became part of our nature because it was so helpful to us in our dealings with one another and to ease the stresses of life.  Perhaps it was self-deception that I indulged in when I began writing on this blog on 1st January 2012?

In deciding to write for 366 days of 2012, I deceived myself to believe that it wouldn’t be very hard and the reality was:  it was  damn hard!! Yet I am so glad I deceived myself, because if I hadn’t done so, I would never have started. TODAY … I wouldn’t be within 20 DAYS of completing my challenge! Drum roll please …

Sometimes, we have to deceive ourselves to protect ourselves from what is ahead of us. Wow! I never thought that deception could be such a wonderful thing at times!

All thanks must go to those cheeky orchids who lured me with their beauty to write about them and who deceive for their own self-preservation … just as we do!