- San Diego Zoo
Orchid: Star of Bethlehem Orchid Angraecum sesquipedale
FAMILY: ORCHIDACEAE (Orchid Family)
Charles Darwin was fascinated with orchids and their unique and bizarre adaptations. He even wrote a book called The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids Are Fertilized by Insects . Based on his knowledge of orchids and their pollinators, when he examined Madagascar's Angraecum sesquipedale, also known as the Star of Bethlehem orchid because it blooms at Christmas, he hypothesized that there must be an insect with an extremely long tongue that could probe deep enough into the orchid's 12-inch (30-centimeter) long spur to obtain the nectar at its bottom and thus cause pollination. His entomologist contemporaries ridiculed him for such a suggestion, but Darwin had the last laugh. About 40 years later, the orchid's pollinator was discovered, and, sure enough, the Xanthopan moth had a foot-long proboscis that it kept rolled up when it wasn't out nectar hunting!