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In "How Deceptive Can an Orchid Be?" - an op-ed piece posted today at the ABC News website - Lee Dye reported that scientists have found an orchid on the Chinese island of Hainan that's even trickier than most orchids in deceiving pollinators.
Unlike many other orchids, the Dendrobium sinense doesn't produce an aroma that will attract bees. That's because this white orchid depends on hornets rather than bees for pollination.
"The orchid releases a chemical that produces an aroma that is identical to the smell made by bees that are under attack," writes Dye. "The hornet normally captures bees to feed to its larvae, so when it smells the alarm pheromone it figures bees are inside the orchid, and they are in distress and thus would be easy victims. So the hornet plunges into the orchid like a cruise missile. But there are no bees there. Only pollen, which clings to the body of the hornet. The hornet moves on, getting nothing for its efforts, and it spreads the pollen to other orchids in the Bawangling National Nature Reserve in Hainan."
So why do we say that the orchid deceived the scientists studying it? The article begins with this sentence: "Charles Darwin would have loved it." To the writer of the piece - as well as the evolutionary scientists studying it - the orchid gives clear evidence of natural selection. They seem to have overlooked another and more plausible explanation - that an Intelligent Designer created the orchid this way. Why more plausible? Because the orchid would have died out long before it developed its unique ability to mimic the scent of bees in distress.