Images of bee orchids, fly orchids and spider orchids

View some eye-catching orchids that have evolved to mimic insects. Their deception attracts particular insect pollinators to them. 

Not only have the flowers of the orchids in the group Ophrys evolved to look like specific insect species, but they emit an enticing cocktail of chemicals. These mimic pheromones released by the female of the species and lure males to the flower. 

Bee orchid, Ophrys apifera

Bees trying to copulate with a bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, pick up pollen on their head from the hanging packets of pollen (pollinia). They then transfer this to the female parts of the next bee orchid they visit. 

Despite this, bee orchids in Britain rely heavily on self-pollination. In contrast, the other Ophrys species are dependent on pollination by insects.

Bee orchid, Ophrys apifera

There are 4 species of Ophrys orchid in Britain. The bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, is by far the most common, but it occurs in many unusual forms with different colours, markings and flower shapes. These are under-recorded, so little is known about their distribution. We'd like your help to gather this information.

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Bee orchid, Ophrys apifera var. trolli

The many different forms of the bee orchid are usually regarded as varieties. This image shows Ophrys apifera var. trolli, known as the wasp orchid.

Bee orchid, Ophrys apifera var. belgarum

Ophrys apifera var. belgarum was only described in the late 1990s. It displays a different pattern of bands and colours compared to the common form of the bee orchid, and the shoulders of the lip are much less prominent.

© Dr HJ Crouch
Fly orchid, Ophrys insectifera

The fly orchid, Ophrys insectifera, was once widespread in the UK but it is now declining. It is most likely to be found in clearings and at the edge of woodland.

Fly orchid and bee orchid cross, Ophrys apifera x O. insectifera

The bee orchid is known to cross breed with the fly orchid, resulting in the hybrid Ophrys x pietzchii, the bee-fly orchid.

Early spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes

The early spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes, was once present as far north as Cambridgeshire in the UK. But it is now largely restricted to Dorset, Sussex and Kent on the south coast.

Late spider orchid, Ophrys fuciflora

The late spider orchid, Ophrys fuciflora, is extremely rare in the UK. Very small populations exist at less than 10 sites in Kent.

Bee orchid
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Help our scientists gather data about the distribution of unusual orchids in the UK.

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