J Syst Evol ›› 2020, Vol. 58 ›› Issue (2): 174-181.DOI: 10.1111/jse.12485

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Effective pollinia transfer by settling moths’ legs in an orchid Habenaria aitchisonii

Ying-Ze Xiong1, Li-Bing Jia1, Chang-Qiu Liu2 and Shuang-Quan Huang1*   

  1. 1School of Life Sciences, China Central Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China
    2Guangxi Institute of Botany, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guilin 541006, China
  • Received:2018-12-04 Accepted:2019-01-25 Online:2019-02-02 Published:2020-03-01


A great diversity of flower morphology in orchids has long been thought to be selected by diverse pollinators. Habenaria Willd. (Orchidaceae) species are generally characterized by long nectar spurs and pollinated by long‐tongued insects (Lepidoptera), the mechanical fit between the spur and pollinator proboscis length being supposedly caused by “arms race” reciprocal selection. Here, we report that flowers of Habenaria aitchisonii Rchb. f. with nectar spurs (approximately 9 mm) were pollinated by three species of settling noctuid moths whose proboscises varied in length from 10 to 16 mm. When a settling moth crawled on the spikes and probed the flowers for nectar, pollinia were placed on the moths’ legs rather than on other body parts. Our 5‐year survey of pollinia movement and 3‐year supplemental pollination experiments indicated that fruit and seed production in this orchid were not often pollen‐limited at flower level. In a natural population in Shangri‐La, Southwest China, the proportions of pollinia removal and deposition on stigmas by moth legs were 93.8% and 83.5%, respectively. This finding of efficient pollen transfer by the pollinators’ legs in H. aitchisonii adds a new example of diverse pollinia placement on pollinators (here settling moths) in the Orchidaceae.

Key words: leg placement, nectar spur, Orchidaceae, plant–pollinator interaction, pollen transfer, pollination mode, settling moth