(dpa) - Nature's story is usually one of symbiosis. Different species hang around together, the better to spot predators. Big fish allow little fish to swim with them, the scraps from the master's table a trade-off for keeping the bigger ones free of fungal growths.
Australian researchers have been looking at a relationship where the benefit to the different parties is not so obvious, focusing on those orchid species that have parts resembling female wasps in order to attract the pollen that sticks to the legs of male wasps.
"The effect of deception on pollinators has been considered negligible, but we show that pollinators may suffer considerable costs," Sydney biologist Anne Gaskett said. "Insects pollinating Australian tongue orchids frequently ejaculate and waste copious sperm."
Waste is anathema is nature and the Macquarie University people were intrigued by it.
They found that over time, the male wasps twigged that they were being deceived and were less likely to deposit their semen.
Some wasp females can produce female and male offspring asexually, so in the great scheme of things there was no calamitous loss because their menfolk were being tricked.
The orchids had an obvious benefit: they got pollinated. The researchers also speculated that there was an added benefit in hoodwinking the male wasps: any loss of fertility because of wasted sperm was more than made up for by female wasps producing male offspring.