Orchids have more than 20,000 to 30,000 species worldwide, of which one-third thrive in the rain-forest. With so many species, it is not surprising that this flowering plant has a variety of colors and shapes, including those species with animal faces. One of which is the monkey face orchid. Out of curiosity, we tried to compile some monkey face orchid facts that not many people know.
While researching monkey face orchid facts, we just realized that this kind of orchid does not have a Latin name related to primate species. So, why is this species associated with monkeys? Find the answer below, along with other interesting facts about monkey face orchids!
Table of Contents
- 1. First Discovery And Why It Called Dracula
- 2. Known As ‘Lord Of The Flies’
- 3. Provide Shelters For Its Pollinators
- 4. They Are The Dracula Of Ecuador
- 5. Only Grow In Cloud-Cover Forests
- 6. Smells Like Ripe Oranges
- 7. The Newest Monkey Face Orchid Discovered In Columbia
- 8. Mushroom-Mimicking To Attract Flies
1. First Discovery And Why It Called Dracula
Let’s start our discussion about the monkey face orchid facts by knowing its origin. The genus of monkey face orchid was first discovered in 1978 by Carlyle Luer, an American botanist who specialized in Orchidaceae, in the cloud forests of Peru and Ecuador. This orchid species previously belonged to Masdevallia orchids before being classified into Pleurothallids.
Moreover, this orchid has a Latin name, Dracula simia, where ‘Dracula’ means a little dragon, while ‘simia’ refers to something that has a vivid resemblance to monkeys and primates in general. Hence, Dracula simia is popular as monkey face orchid or little dragon monkey orchid. To this day, there are around 90 species of Dracula orchids living in the forests of western Columbia and Ecuador.
2. Known As ‘Lord Of The Flies’
Despite having a monkey face appearance, this orchid is famous as Lord Of The Flies. How come? A study showed that one of the monkey face orchid genus, the Dracula orchid, has an appearance that is attractive to flies, particularly the mycophilous, Zygothrica, and Hirtodrosophila flies.
These last two insects mentioned, which occasionally swarm the white fungi, think that the Dracula orchids are the fungi they usually visit. It is due to the orchids’ ability to mimic the physical appearance of the fungus.
3. Provide Shelters For Its Pollinators
One of the most fascinating monkey face orchid facts is that they also act as a shelter for its pollinators, the flies. Besides attracting flies as their pollinators, the spreading sepals of the Dracula orchids provide a roof-life structure to protect the flies from the water droplets when the rainy season arrives.
Hence, the flies like to stay longer in the flowers during the season. In addition, the ‘roof’ also ensures that the plant organs are safe and sound despite the significant disturbance caused by the rain.
4. They Are The Dracula Of Ecuador
Considering its habitat and the many species of Dracula orchids in the forests of Ecuador, the monkey face orchid is better known as The Dracula of Ecuador.
Approximately 55 species with weirdly exquisite shapes and shades have grown in the country’s cloud forests. Some are in the Andes and coastal regions and Amazonian provinces. Additionally, the flowers are the keys that identify one from the other.
5. Only Grow In Cloud-Cover Forests
As mentioned before, that monkey face orchid, specifically Dracula simia, was first found by an American botanist, Carlyle Luer, in 1978. This epiphyte plant is known to live in cloud-cover forests in southeast Ecuador at an altitude of 2000-3000 meters above sea level.
In addition, some also said you can find the orchids at a height as low as 300 to 2800 meters. They enjoy the cool air with temperatures of around 12-17⁰C and moderate humidity, approximately 80-90%, offered by their growing areas. Since they grow in the cloud forests with a lack of sunlight exposure, these monkey face orchids are also popular as Dracula orchids.
6. Smells Like Ripe Oranges
Among all the monkey face orchid facts, this one draws our attention to look further! Unlike the blooms that look like a monkey—specifically the golden monkey, Dracula simia has a pleasant fragrance similar to ripe orange when blooming.
Unfortunately, the origin of the lovely smell remains unknown. Perhaps because of this scent and its primate-like appearance, small monkeys reported trying to have intercourse with this orchid. Oops!
7. The Newest Monkey Face Orchid Discovered In Columbia
Maybe this is the newest and the most exciting monkey orchid fact. Two Dracula orchids experts, Nicolas Pilaez and Gary Meyer, found a new monkey face orchid in the Andes, Columbia, in 2019! It is a Dracula irmeliane whose name was taken after Irmelin Indenbirken, a Deutsch philanthropist.
Moreover, the characteristics of this monkey face orchid are florally similar to Dracula verticulosa; only the sepals are broader and larger and the dark red maculae. In addition, you can also notice long and dense pubescence on the base of the tails and internal sepal surfaces. Sadly, this species is critically endangered due to habitat loss.
8. Mushroom-Mimicking To Attract Flies
Besides Dracula simia, some stunning monkey face orchids left us stunned by their bizarre yet interesting behavior. One of them is Dracula lafleurii. This flowering plant emits scents identical to mushrooms to attract the flies as its pollinators.
Research by Policha, a biologist from the University of Oregon, found that the specific fragrant comes from ‘mushroom-alcohol‘ or 1-octen-3-ol produced in the orchid’s labella. With this volatile compound, mushroom-visiting flies will pollinate the Dracula orchid.
Not only that, but Dracula lafleurii also performs floral mimicry to trick the mushroom-associated flies as the labella resemble co-occurring mushrooms. Another study also discovered that around two-thirds of the flies were mushroom-identical flies, while the rest was Dracula-specific.
9. Provide Mating Space For Their Pollinators
Still talking about the floral characteristics of Dracula orchids, it was found that the wings of Zygothrica paraldrichi and Zygothrica antedispar flies have similarities to the petals of many of the Dracula orchid species, which may lead to mating.
Moreover, the flies are also more interested in the dotted patterns on the sepals of monkey face orchids, thinking that they are flies too; thus they can create a courtship. What a mind-blowing monkey orchid fact it is!
10. Feeding The Pollinators
Quoting from the previous monkey face orchid facts, the Dracula orchids have dots that provide mating space on the sepals for the flies. Apparently, the orchids offer them beyond sex!
A new discovery found that yeast presented in the gut of the insects and also grew on the Dracula orchids. This finding indicated that the orchid not only lures the pollinators to pollinate but also feeds them as a ‘food reward’.
11. Specific Insect Pollination
Other than Dracula orchids, monkey face orchids also include Platanthera intergrilabia, an endangered monkey face orchid that is native to shaded bogs and seepage slopes in the southern Appalachians.
Zettler and his colleagues conducted a study to learn the insect pollination of this orchid. They found that this terrestrial orchid has floral characteristics, like white blooms and night scents, that lure specific pollinators, sphingids moths, to pollinate the flowers. Besides, it also produces sugar and nectar to feed the diurnal and nocturnal pollinators even though it does not particularly differentiate the types of the insects.
12. The Blooms Contain Antioxidant
Limited research was conducted to determine the chemical compounds in Dracula orchids or monkey face orchids. However, a study observed the anthocyanins in the blooms of Dracula chimaera.
It was found that the flowers had 78% of total anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are antioxidant pigments that are also abundant in beets, berries, sweet potatoes, and dragon fruits.
13. Conservation Of Monkey Face Orchid Is Possible, But Challenging
It is one of the unfortunate monkey orchid facts that make us sad. Due to habitat loss, the number of monkey face orchids in the wild continues to decline. As a result, several species fall into the category of ‘vulnerable and nearly threatened,’ including Dracula felix. Besides, the clearing for agriculture and the massive harvesting of the orchids have further exacerbated this condition.
Furthermore, efforts to conserve this epiphytic orchid also encountered several obstacles, such as the location where they grow on extremely steep slopes that reach 30 to 70% and the black soil from volcanic eruptions where they grow. In addition, research by Castillo-Pérez found that some epiphytic orchids, including Dracula felix, prefer specific trees to grow. Hence, this effort should consider planting these trees around the conservation area to survive the orchid.
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14. Flower Longevity Varies Between Species
Dracula orchids are the dominant genus of monkey face orchids. However, each of their flowers blooms at different times, or let’s say they vary widely. Let’s take Dracula felix and Dracula lafleurii as examples. In a 2010 study, the researchers discovered that during the inflorescence, the D. lafleurii produced 5-6 flowers that bloomed for 11-16 days. The flowering starts from December to late May.
Contrary to that, from early January to late February, the D. felix grew a single, 1-cm flower but massive flowering events with 50 or more flowers per plant per year. The number of flowers depends on the size of the plant. It is definitely one of the most amazing monkey face orchid facts you will find astonishing!
15. Monkey Face Orchid Tricks Our Brain. How?
Up to this point, there is one awesome thing that is not directly related but must be included in the list of monkey face orchid facts. Dracula orchids and some other genera or species have a monkey-like face that looks interesting but also strange. However, did you know that they actually don’t look like what they seem? Wait, what does it mean?
Well, the phenomenon is called pareidolia. Pareidolia is a perceptual stimulus that connects an object you see with something important when it does not exist or is unrelated. However, this phenomenon benefits orchids because they can escape predators by scaring them away with their ‘face’. In addition, they also easily invite specific pollinators because of their mushroom-like shape (in the flies’ perspectives).