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First known instance of a cricket as an orchid pollinator captured on film by Kew scientist

An orchid researcher based on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, and collaborating with researchers at Kew, has used motion-sensitive night cameras to capture the first known occurrence of a cricket functioning as a pollinator of flowering plants.

A 'raspy cricket' (Photo: Claire Micheneau and Jacques Fournel)

In 2008, Claire Micheneau, a Kew-associated PhD student studying how the epiphytic orchid genus Angraecum has adapted to different pollinators on Reunion Island, and Jacques Fournel, her collaborator, shot this remarkable footage. It shows a 'raspy cricket' (Glomeremus sp.) carrying pollen on its head as it retreats from the greenish-white flowers of Angraecum cadetii.

The genus Angraecum is best known for Darwin’s study of the Christmas star orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) of Madagascar, and his hypothesis that it was pollinated by a bizarre, long-tongued moth pollinator – a theory that was proved to be true many years after his death.

The moths that are the main Angraecum pollinators on Madagascar are not found on Reunion, and until we started our research the pollination of this genus on Reunion had always been an open question.

Claire Micheneau, Kew-associated PhD student

Watch this unique footage


Claire talks about the importance of this discovery

Talking about the discovery, Claire Micheneau said:

'We knew from monitoring pollen content in the flowers that pollination was taking place. 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 that we had filmed a truly surprising shift in the pollination of Angraecum, a genus that is mainly specialised for moth pollination, was thrilling.'

Micheneau’s research also revealed that two other species of Reunion Island Angraecum orchids (A. bracteosum and A. striatum) are pollinated by two species of small white eye songbirds (Zosterops borbonicus and Zosterops olivaceus).

She continues:

'My studies have shown that the raspy cricket is also a surprisingly efficient pollinator with higher rates of pollination and fruit set in Angraecum cadetii than those recorded in its bird-pollinated sister-species.'

There is a close match in size between the raspy cricket’s head and Angraecum cadetii’s nectar-spur opening. A nectar spur is a hollow tube extending from the petals of a flower that holds nectar in its base. These wingless raspy crickets reach the flowers by climbing up the leaves of the orchid or jumping across from neighbouring plants. They use very long antenna to explore their surroundings.

A question remains

Just why the raspy cricket developed a taste for orchid nectar is still a key question for Micheneau. 'Although crickets are typically omnivorous and eat both plant material and other insects, we think the raspy cricket has evolved to eat nectar to compensate for the general scarcity of other insects on Reunion.'

It is thought the raspy cricket gets its name from the sound it makes by rubbing its legs together to try to scare off enemies.

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Comments

13 February 2010
Oh, i am in love! Bugs and plants: joy! One of my favorite things is to photograph pollination in progress and all the different bugs that do it, so this is like a birthday cake to me! Congrats! and Happy Birthday to the new pollinator...
12 February 2010
what a beautiful plant keep up the good work
7 February 2010
Thanks for a riveting film and for sharing the discovery. It is always great to find a new ( to us) pollinator in action. Keep going, I am sure there are many more unsuspected pollinators out there, especially among the minute insects on miniature flowers. This is a great field for young botanists to be studying. Angela Overy, author of Sex in Your Garden
12 January 2010
Makes me reevaluate the cricket I found on top of a Dogtooth violet last winter. There were pollen grains on its antennae, which I didn't see until I got home and looked at the photo. Fantastic work as always, KEW. Keep it up!! Karen
12 January 2010
Thank you for sharing this footage with us, amzaing filming. Is that another small insect getting a sup of nectar in the flower head to the left, about 30 seconds into this it looks like it climbs down from inside and walks off to the right of the leaf, or do I have bad eyesight?
12 January 2010
Fascinating footage, when you see film like this you realise just how much we still don't really know about plant and animal life in the garden. which is probably why gardening is such an amazing thing to do. I look forward to seeing more exciting discoveries from Kew, well done all!