Jiminy cricket, pollinator caught in the act

Birds do it, bees do it, and apparently crickets do it too. Using night-vision cameras, scientists have documented cricket pollination of an orchid on the island of Réunion. The sighting is the first report of flower pollination by an orthopteran insect, a member of the order that includes katydids, grasshoppers and locusts, researchers report online January 11 and in an upcoming issue of the Annals of Botany. And the cricket itself — a species of raspy cricket — is new to science.

“This was very unexpected,” says study coauthor Claire Micheneau, a doctoral student at CIRAD–Université de La Réunion who collaborated with researchers from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England. The find has left the scientists wondering if cricket pollination may be more widespread, yet was unseen because researchers hadn’t been looking for it. “The answer to a question brings us further questions,” Micheneau says.

To investigate the pollination strategy of the Angraecum cadetii orchid, Micheneau and her colleagues trained night cameras on the plants. The researchers were startled to see a cricket retreating from a flower, pollen coating its head. To make sure the event wasn’t a one-time wonder, the researchers recorded hours of footage, conducted pollination experiments and measured the crickets’ heads. The crickets were the only pollinator the team observed on that type of orchid. Crickets accessed the flowers by climbing up leaves or jumping from plant to plant, the researchers report.

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