Plant fools pollinators with ultra-realistic faux flies

about the episode

Nature is full of tricks, or perhaps it is better to say it: it is full of evolutionary adaptations that have favored the survival of species. A very rare South African plant from the daisy family has managed to make such an adaptation in order to win over its neighbors.

This plant produces leaves with patterns that resemble female flies. They are so convincing that male flies take great pleasure in dropping and then diving right on top of them. In an attempt to mate, they move back and forth, but something just isn’t right. After a few fruitless attempts, they give up, but then the plant already has exactly what it wants: pollen.

We already knew that this plant achieves this clever image on the leaves, including the bumps and hairs, but how the plant does this is not yet known. Now researchers have found three sets of genes that are grouped together in a new way in leaves to make the fake flies possible.

One group adds iron to the red-violet pigment of the leaves, which in that spot forms the blue-green basis for the fly’s image. The other group is concerned with hair growth. And a third group determines the random locations of the fly.

So the plant didn’t evolve a smart gene for the fake flies, no, the genes the plant already had for other functions were given a new common task. And from an evolutionary point of view, the plant also developed this trick very quickly.

It gives the plant, which grows in harsh conditions, with little time to reproduce, an advantage over other plants.

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Read more about research here: These tricky daisies have remixed their genes to make fake flies.

Megan Vasquez

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