The cricket that pollinates plants

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Insect is filmed transferring pollen between orchids for first time

A A A

Grasshoppers and their relatives can pollinate plants like bees, scientists have discovered.

The unexpected finding has come from the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, where a cricket has been seen pollinating an orchid – that is, transferring pollen, which contains a plant's male sperm, to another plant's female organs, enabling it to produce seeds.

Crickets, like most members of the insect order Orthoptera (grasshoppers and their allies), are well-known for eating plants rather than helping them to reproduce. Until now, the insects known to be involved in pollination, with honey bees leading the way, have included ants, beetles, hoverflies, butterflies and moths, while birds and even bats can be involved in the pollination process – but no crickets or grasshoppers.

The unprecedented behaviour was recorded on a nocturnal camera set up by orchid researcher Claire Micheneau in a Réunion cloud forest, which caught a raspy cricket in the act of pollinating a species of epiphytic, or tree-growing, orchid called Angraecum cadetii.

"We knew from monitoring pollen content in the flowers that pollination was taking place," said Dr Micheneau, who is collaborating with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. "However, we did not observe it during the day. That's why we rigged up a night camera and caught this raspy cricket in action.

"Watching the footage for the first time, and realising we had filmed a truly surprising shift in the pollination of Angraecum, a genus that is mainly specialised for moth pollination, was thrilling."

The green-and-white flower is closely related to the comet orchid of Madagascar, which Charles Darwin famously theorised would be pollinated, because of the plant's long nectar spur, or tube, by a moth with an enormously long proboscis. Years after Darwin's death, this was shown to be right – the pollinator proved to be a hawk moth with a proboscis 14in (35cm) long.

On Réunion the moth does not exist, so scientists think that the island's three species of Angraecum orchids, which originated in Madagascar, have reversed their evolution and developed a shorter nectar tube which can be used by other insects, such as the raspy cricket.

Dr Micheneau's discovery was published yesterday in the journal Annals of Botany. The footage from the motion-sensitive night camera, which she set up with her colleague Jacques Fournel, shows the raspy cricket carrying pollen on its head as it retreats from the orchid flowers. There is a close match in size between the raspy cricket's head and Angraecum cadetii's nectar-spur opening.

The wingless raspy cricket reaches the flowers by climbing up the leaves of the orchid or jumping across from neighbouring plants.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions