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A rainforest vine has evolved dish-shaped leaves to attract the bats that pollinate it. The leaves were supremely efficient at bouncing back the sound pulses the flying mammals used to navigate. When the leaves were present the bats located the plant twice as quickly as when these echoing leaves were removed. The study is the first to find a plant with "specialised acoustic features" to help bat pollinators find them using sound.
Many plants lure pollinators to their flowers with diverse colours and patterns, but Marcgravia evenia (pictured) has evolved to attract pollinators that rely on sound rather than sight. The Cuban rainforest vine grows a deep cup-shaped leaf above its flowers that creates a distinct echo for nectar-feeding bats.
The rare South African iris (Lapeirousia oreogena) has a ring of six stunning purple petals, atop an equally vivid straw-like stem. The petals have white marks, which look like arrows pointing towards the centre of the flower. And that’s exactly what they are. The iris is pollinated by the accurately named “long-proboscid fly”, whose tongue is twice as long as its body. It hovers over the flower and aims for the centre, driving its tongue deep into the stem to reach the pool of nectar at the bottom. As it drinks, its head pushes against the flower’s male organs, which deposit a dollop of pollen. When the fly leaves, it carries this payload to another iris. The flies and the flowers are intimate partners of evolution. The long tongues and stems have been perfectly aligned to give one partner a drink and the other a flying sexual aide. All of this depends on the white arrows. When Dennis Hansen from the University of Kwazulu-Natal painted over the markings, the fly could no longer find the flower’s centre. The arrows are like a sign that says, “Insert tongue here”.
The Madagascar star orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale, is especially famous because of its incredibly long "nectar spur" -- a long tubular extension that holds the flower's nectar. As pollinating moths reach their tongues to the nectar, they are forced to brush their faces in pollen, thus pollinating the flower. Of course, the moths evolved longer tongues to make it easier to each the nectar, also avoiding pollinating the flower. In response, the flower developed longer nectar spurs to force the moth to pollinate it, and so on. This biological balancing act where an organism drives the evolution of one or more of its evolutionary partner's traits is known as coevolution.
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