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Why would an orchid want to smell like a person?



February 3, 2016
Platanthera obtusata

Platanthera obtusata

Why would an orchid want to smell like a human? To attract a mosquito of course.

Orchids are one of nature’s canniest plants, disguising themselves as all sorts of ways to attract their pollinators. But what’s a blood-sucking mosquito going to get out of a plant?

Researchers from the University of Washington have discovered that Platanthera obtusata, a USA native orchid that grows in boggy areas, takes it to a new level, emitting an odour that smells just like humans. This smell attracts the local tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).

Female mosquitos need more than just blood to feed them up ready to lay eggs, they also need carbohydrates as well, which they can get from a pollen feed. The orchid gets pollinated and the mosquito gets its carbs.

But it was the scent analysis that got the scientists excited, when they discovered that out of the cocktail of scent compounds the orchid was exuding, it was a human-like smell that was attracting the mosquitos. This open up possibilities for using this scent as bait in mosquito traps.

[Photo source http://www.forestryimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5537299
Author Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org]
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