When I first saw these pictures I was startled, for the resemblance of this Australian orchid (Caleana major) to a flying duck is amazing.
In fact its common names are the “flying duck orchid” and the “big duck orchid”.
Kuriositas has the botanical details:
The duck orchid is a perennial but blooms in late spring or early summer. At up to 45 centimeters in height you might think it would stand out in its natural habitat. However, because of the reddy-brown colors of both the stem and flowers it moulds in to its Australian environs so expertly that it becomes almost invisible – unless you are deliberately seeking out its company.
I was tempted to write that this orchid is pollinated by male ducks, who try to copulate with the flowers and thereby affix pollen to their heads (this is in fact true for insects pollinating the wasp and bee orchids), but I knew at least one reader would be taken in. But the facts are just as striking:
The ‘upside-down’ flower is reddish-brown, 15-20 mm long. The labellum or tongue, at the top, is a deep red and attached to the rest of the flower by a sensitive strap. Pollination is via male sawflies. When the insect touches the sensitive labellum it snaps shut, trapping the insect in the sticky body of the column. It deposits pollen it may be carrying and picks up more. It is then released to fly to the next orchid.
I’d love to grow one of these (I have several wild orchids in my lab), but, alas, that won’t be. As Kuriositas notes:
If you have suddenly been gripped by the desire to own your very own duck orchid then you will be disappointed. Despite numerous attempts, this orchid stubbornly refuses to be propagated, and is only found in the wild. This is because the roots of caleana have a symbiotic relationship with the vegetative part of a fungus which only thrives in the part of Australia in which it originates. The fungus helps the plant to stave off infections and without its help the duck orchid never lasts long.
And the Aussies, God bless them, have put the orchid on a stamp:
Finally, in a bizarre coincidence, I found this—a duck-faced lacewing fly! (It’s actually a “spoon-winged lacewing” in the genus Nemia, family Nemopteridae.) Spoon-winged lacewings are also called “thread-winged antlions”, for their larvae are predators on ants and other insects.
It’s described on Piotr Naskrecki’s website, The Smaller Majority. Here’s the bill:But it’s not just the face that’s weird—check out its hindwings!: As Naskrecki explains, the “duckface” is adapted to dip into flowers to eat nectar and pollen, but we don’t know why those hindwings are so large:
These lacewings are easily recognizable thanks to their unique, extremely elongated or enlarged hind wings, reminiscent of the long plumes seen in some birds-of-paradise. The function of this unusual morphology is still not entirely known. In species with particularly enlarged hind wings their function appears to be to deter some predators by giving a false impression of the insect as much larger—and thus potentially stronger—than it really is. In species with long, thread-like wings their function may be related to the aerodynamics of the flight, and in members of the subfamily Crocinae the hind wings play a sensory function in cavernicolous habitats that these insects occupy.
I would have thought sexual selection is involved, making these beasts the insect equivalent of long-tailed widowbirds, but that would lead to sexual dimorphism, with males having much longer wings than females. And that’s apparently not the case.
To see other species in this bizarre group, go here.