The Wasp and the Orchid
Today is the birthday of the Australian naturalist and prolific writer Edith Coleman.
Until recently, little was known about Edith. The author, Danielle Claude, wrote a book about Edith called The Wasp and the Orchid, which explored how Edith went from being a housewife until the age of 48 and then transformed into one of Australia's leading naturalists.
Edith had a special appreciation for orchids. Beginning in January 1927, one of her daughters told her that she had seen a wasp entering the flower of the small tongue orchid backward. The odd behavior was something both Edith and her daughter would repeatedly see over the next few seasons. The response was perplexing, especially after Edith dissected the plants and discovered that they were male. Edith continued to study their behavior, and she finally found that the wasp was fertilizing the orchid. The orchid uses this stealth pollination strategy Called pseudo-copulation to trick the male wasps into thinking they are meeting with a female wasp. By getting the males to enter the plant, the plant can be pollinated.
Edith became the first woman to be awarded the Australian natural history medallion. Edith will forever be remembered for her groundbreaking discovery about orchid pollination.