Researchers catch new cricket species going where no cricket has gone before

Jeremy Hance
January 13, 2010

East of Madagascar, on the small island of Reunion, researchers have made a remarkable discovery: a cricket that pollinates an orchid. The cricket, which is also a species new to science, was caught by a motion sensitive camera pollinating the orchid, Angraecum cadetii. The genus Angraecum orchid is usually pollinated by moths, but cadetti's nectar-spur opening is just the right shape for the cricket, known as the 'raspy cricket'.

"We knew from monitoring pollen content in the flowers that pollination was taking place. However, we did not observe it during the day. That’s why we rigged up a night camera and caught this raspy cricket in action," explains Claire Micheneau A PhD student working on epiphytic orchids, who published the findings in the Annals of Botany. In her research, Micheneau is collaborating with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The raspy cricket (Glomeremus sp) carrying pollen on its head. Photo by: Michenau and Fournel.
"Watching the footage for the first time, and realizing that we had filmed a truly surprising shift in the pollination of Angraecum, a genus that is mainly specialized for moth pollination, was thrilling."

Crickets are usually known for eating plants, not pollinating them. But the raspy cricket is unique: wingless, its reaches the flower by climbing the orchid's leaves or jumping from adjacent plants. Not only is this the first known cricket to pollinate a plant, but Micheneau says that the cricket has proven quite an effective ally for the orchid.

"My studies have shown that the raspy cricket is also a surprisingly efficient pollinator with higher rates of pollination and fruit set in Angraecum cadetii than those recorded in its bird-pollinated sister-species," Miccheneau says, adding that "we think the raspy cricket has evolved to eat nectar to compensate for the general scarcity of other insects on Reunion."

The raspy cricket (Glomeremus sp). Photo by: Michenau and Fournel.

Angraecum cadetii is pollinated by the raspy cricket. Photo by: Michenau and Fournel.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (January 13, 2010).

Researchers catch new cricket species going where no cricket has gone before.