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Sexually deceived flies not hopelessly dumb

Pollinators become wary after being tricked into attempting mating with a plant

11:51am, January 29, 2014

FOOL ME ONCE  A raised lump of plant tissue (left) growing on the petal of a South African daisy can trick a male bee fly into mating attempts that dust him with pollen — and may, new tests suggest, make him a little wiser. 

Male bee flies fooled into trying to copulate with a daisy may learn from the awkward incident.

Certain orchids and several forms of South Africa’s Gorteria diffusa daisy lure pollinators by mimicking female insects. The most effective daisy seducers row a dark, somewhat fly-shaped bump on one of their otherwise yellow-to-orange petals. Males of small, dark Megapalpus capensis bee flies go wild.

But tests show the daisy’s victims waste less time trying to mate with a second deceptive daisy than with the first. “Far from being slow and stupid, these males are actually quite keen observers and fairly perceptive for a fly,” says Marinus L. de Jager of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

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