Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 167, Issue 3–4, pp 137–148 | Cite as

The unique pollination ofLeporella fimbriata (Orchidaceae): Pollination by pseudocopulating male ants (Myrmecia urens, Formicidae)

  • Rod Peakall


Leporella fimbriata is a self compatible orchid of southern Australia. It is dependant across its range on unique pollination by sexually attracted male winged antsMyrmecia urens, which pseudocopulate with the flower. Typical pollination sequences began with an initial circling then zig-zag flight to the flower. Vectors usually alighted on the inflorescence stem and quickly crawled to the flower where they adopted a copulatory position sideways along the wide labellum, pseudocopulatory probing immediately followed. In this position pollen carried on the thorax was deposited on the stigma. Departure from the labellum usually resulted in pollinium removal. Pollinator movements were restricted and the distribution leptokurtic with a mean of 3.141 ± 4.59 m. Pollination was widespread but variable from site to site and season to season with a maximum of 70% of all flowers being pollinated. Pollinator limitation is indicated. Traits essential for this pollination interaction include the coincidence of orchid and ant geographic distributions and the coincidence of flowering with the flight period of the ant. The production of pheromonelike substances and the distinctive floral morphology are also essential for attraction and manipulation of male ants. The ant mating system which the orchid can exploit is also important.

Key words

Angiosperms Orchidaceae Leporella Formicidae Myrmecia Ant pollination pseudocopulation floral morphology 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bates, R., 1979: Pollination of orchids. (10).Leporella fimbriata and its ant pollinators. — J. Native Orchid Soc. S. Australia3: (11), 9–10.Google Scholar
  2. Beattie, A. J., Turnbull, C. L., Knox, R. B., Williams, E., 1984: Ant inhibition of pollen function: a possible reason why ant pollination is rare. — Amer. J. Bot.71: 421–426.Google Scholar
  3. —, —,Hough, T., Jobson, S., Knox, B., 1985: The vulnerability of pollen and fungal spores to ant secretions: evidence and some evolutionary implications. — Amer. J. Bot.72: 606–614.Google Scholar
  4. —, —, —,Knox, B., 1986: Antibiotic production: a possible function for the metaplural gland of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). — Ann. Entomol. Soc. Amer.79: 448–450.Google Scholar
  5. Bergstrom, G., 1978: Role of volatile chemicals inOphrys-pollinator interactions. — InHarbourne, J. B., (Ed.): Biochemical aspects of plant and animal coevolution, pp. 207–231. — London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  6. Browning, G. P., 1987: Taxonomy ofMyrmecia Fabricius (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). — Ph.D. thesis, University of Adelaide.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, J., 1951: TheFormicidae of Australia 1. SubfamilyMyrmeciinae. — Melbourne, Australia: CSIRO.Google Scholar
  8. Clements, M. A., 1982: Preliminary checklist of AustralianOrchidaceae. — Canberra: National Botanic Gardens.Google Scholar
  9. Holldobler, B., 1971: Sex pheromone in the antXenomyrmex floridanus. — J. Insect Physiol.17: 1497–1499.Google Scholar
  10. Jacobson, M., 1972: Insect sex pheromones. — London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kannowski, P. B., Johnson, R. L., 1969: Male patrolling behaviour and sex attraction in ants of the genusFormica. — Anim. Behav.17: 425–429.Google Scholar
  12. Kullenberg, B., Bergstrom, G., 1973: The pollination ofOphrys orchids. — InBenz, G., Santesson, J., (Eds.): Chemistry in botanical classification, pp. 253–358. — Stockholm: Nobel Foundation.Google Scholar
  13. —, —, 1976: The pollination ofOphrys orchids. — Bot. Not.129: 11–19.Google Scholar
  14. Pate, J. S., Dixon, K. W., 1982: Tuberous, cormous and bulbous plants. — Nedlands: Univ. Western Australia Press.Google Scholar
  15. Peakall, R., 1984: Observations on the pollination ofLeporella fimbriata (Lindl.)A. S. George. — J. Australasian Native Orchid Soc.8: 44–45.Google Scholar
  16. - 1987: Genetic systems of Australian terrestrial orchids. — Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia.Google Scholar
  17. —,James, S. H., 1989: Outcrossing in an ant pollinated clonal orchid. — Heredity62: 161–167.Google Scholar
  18. —,Beattie, A. J., James, S. H., 1987: Pseudocopulation of an orchid by male ants: A test of two hypotheses accounting for the rarity of ant pollination. — Oecologia73: 522–524.Google Scholar
  19. Stoutamire, W. P., 1974: Australian terrestrial orchids, thynnid wasps and pseudocopulation. — Amer. Orchid Soc. Bull.43: 13–18.Google Scholar
  20. —, 1975: Pseudocopulation in Australian terrestrial orchids. — Amer. Orchid Soc. Bull.44: 226–233.Google Scholar
  21. —, 1983: Wasp-pollinated species ofCaladenia in South-western Australia. — Austral. J. Bot.31: 383–394.Google Scholar
  22. Wheeler, W. M., 1933: Colony-founding among ants. With an account of some primitive Australian species. — Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Wilson, E. O., 1971: The insect societies. — Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Woolcock, D. T., 1980: Wasps andLeporella fimbriata. — J. Australasian Native Orchid Soc.6: 157.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rod Peakall
    • 1
  1. 1.Botany DepartmentThe University of Western AustraliaNedlandsAustralia

Personalised recommendations