The complicated relationships in our crazy world need no introduction. Coexistence, betrayal, cheating are all part of the game. If you think this drama is a messed up creation of the human mind, you are wrong. Even plants are not strangers to symbiotic relationships and cheating.
Case in point: a recent finding regarding the pollination mechanism of the plant, Ceropegia sandersonii. The flower of this plant produces special chemicals to attract Desmometopa flies for their pollination. To understand what these chemicals are and why this is ‘cheating’, let me explain more about the Desmometopa flies. These flies are kleptoparasites; they feed on honeybees that are attacked by a spider. Basically, they mooch off predators, who take the efforts of killing the bees. But how do these flies know when a honeybee is being attacked? Simple- the scent of chemicals that a scared honeybee secretes serves as their party invitation.
A group of researchers recently reported that the flower of Ceropegia sandersonii takes advantage of this fact by producing chemicals that are similar to those secreted by the bees when they are attacked. The flies are lured into the flower with the hope of food, but not only are they bereft of it, but the flower also traps them for a day to ensure maximum pollen transfer. What a nasty shock for the flies to do all the pollination work (for once) for no rewards!
This is an interesting example (although not the first) of the extent of cheating in plants to achieve free pollination. Sure, they could just stick to the friendly nectar-rewarding routine, but where’s the drama in that, right?
A. Heiduk et al. Ceropegia sandersonii mimics attacked honeybees to attract kleptoparasitic flies for pollination. Current Biology. Published online October 6, 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.085.