Newly Described Orchid Has A Tiny Demon At Its Center

The little orchid appears to be hiding a devil. Marta Kolanowska
Josh Davis 15 Jul 2016, 11:00

There are flowers that look like lips, and those that are the perfect imitation of a bee, but now researchers in Colombia have found one with a slightly more sinister appearance. In the remote montane forests of the country is a tiny orchid that looks just like it has a tiny little demon sitting at its center. The flower, only just described by science, is already thought to be critically endangered.

The latest discovery has been named after its fiendish looks, and is officially called Telipogon diabolicus. As if the miniature devil in the middle of the flower isn’t menacing enough, the flower also has little claws on the end of each petal, a unique feature not seen in any of its close relatives. It was found in a small patch of forest in southern Colombia, and is only described from 30 individual plants. As this swath of forest is threatened by development, as quickly as the plant has been described it has also been placed on the IUCN’s critically endangered list.

The flower is a type of orchid, which are well known for having the appearance of other things. One has the uncanny appearance of a monkey’s face, while another looks like a bird. While these are normally just a coincidence – people naturally look for patterns and faces in things when they aren’t actually there – there are plenty of examples of orchids that look like insects, and that is not a coincidence. The bee orchid, for example, specifically looks like a female bee in order to lure in males that are hoping to mate. Instead of getting lucky though, the bees simply pollinate the flowers.  

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The new species is only little, and has a highly restricted range. Marta Kolanowska

Orchids naturally live in very restricted ranges, and are thus one of the most diverse families of flowering plants. “In the most recent catalog of Colombian plants almost 3,600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included,” write the authors in their paper published in PhotoKeys. “However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered. Only in 2015 over 20 novelties were published based on material collected in Colombia.”

The new species can, according to the researchers, be easily confused with another closely related orchid, though it is slightly different in size and coloration, and is unique in that the bottom petals are covered in fine spines. The beautiful little discovery is just yet another addition to the estimated 28,000 species of orchid currently described, adding another important point in our understanding of the natural world. 

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