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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine