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Orquídeas de Mallorca


Yellow Bee Orchid, Ophrys lutea

Hi, Tom here. After a very busy year starting at Manchester University and moving house, I have become somewhat quiet here on the FrogBlog. However, I have just returned from a week’s fieldwork on comparative and adaptive biology on the sunny island of Mallorca, and felt this would be appropriate time for an orchid-filled return.


Mallorca is a rather unique island, with an interesting mix of European, African and Endemic species. The island owes its existence to uplifting of limestone rock due to micro-tectonics. The presence of this limestone has created a rather nutrient poor, alkaline environment, in which Orchids appear to thrive.

The main Orchids abundant on the limestone Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, in the north of Mallorca, is the genus, Ophrys. This genus is often referred to as the “Bee Orchids” because the lower petal, known as the Lebellum has been highly modified through millions of years of selection to imitate the thorax of a female bee, or wasp. This method of pollination is known as “sexually deception”, because the flower itself does not provide a nectar reward to its pollinator, but more of a devious misidentification for a bee trying to have an intimate time. Even more interestingly, the flower releases a chemical signal identical to a female insect’s pheromone, and once a male has been attracted to the flower of the Orchid, it attempts copulation. During this vigorous act, pollen is attached to the males head using a sticky appendage called a Pollinia.

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys fusca (dyris)

Ophrys bombyliflora

Ophrys bombyliflora

As you can see from the images, each Ophrys species has co-evolved to mimic a specific insect. This specificity is rather adaptively disadvantages, as with the British O. apifera, the bee that once pollinated it has become extinct in the UK.


Fortunately the pollinators are still abundant in Mallorca, and as part of my fieldwork I counted the presence of pollinia within the flowers of O. bombilyflora, O. lutea and O. speculum, and whether their flowers had or hadn’t been visited by an eager male bee. What we discovered was that no matter what size the population of Orchids was at different sites approximately 20% would have been visited by bees.

Ophrys species also show a high degree of variance between individuals. The flowers may exhibit completely different coloured petals, or Lebellums of distinctly different shapes. One highly variable species is O. fusca, which was observed at several locations, the specimen photographed may represent the subsp. dyris, but this is uncertain. Another species, O. speculum, is by far the most spectacular of Mallorca’s Ophrys, with its brightly coloured blue mirror and fuzzy perimeter. Although this species doesn’t show much variance, we unexpectedly stumbled across an example that had a rare mutation for albinism. Early in the week a specimen was observed with a white mirror, but this one exhibited a completely un-pigmented flower. This incredibly rare specimen was the pinnacle of a great week, of flowers, fun and Mediterranean sun.

Herbology Manchester      Manchester Museum – Plants     FLS – Fieldcourses

Ophrys speculum "albiflora"

Ophrys speculum “albiflora”

Ophrys speculum

Ophrys speculum

Fitness for the Ark

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum

Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, at Manchester Museum (c) Luiza Pasos

Although we all agree wild animals belong in the wild, it is still becoming increasing common for ex-situ captive breeding being used as a back-up conservation plan. However, although much efforts are put into establishing such initiatives, we are only now beginning to fully assess their viability so far as it becoming a really useful tool for successfully reintroducing amphibians back to the wild.

At the moment here in Manchester we are studying the effects of captivity on several species using a variety of different methods in order to try and quantify the changes that occur in captive-bred and reared animals compared to wild stocks, all with a view to understanding how we can ensure their natural characteristics and behaviours can be retained. Phylommedusine frogs have characters and behaviours that already set them apart from other amphibians so they make particularly interesting models when studying these aspects. Currently we have 2 PhD students studying different species in the vivarium, one focusing on changes to frog skin pigments in captivity, and the other their fitness and changes to their anti-predator responses.

tgrl9cJyU2bHE8MRqzGBFIf4Yzi86KZGh8TqVKJwgyELuiza Pasos focuses her studies on amphibian and reptile behaviour and ecology, and after completing her Masters, she initially decided to move to the Brazilian Amazon and work in a community based project relating to the sustainable management of the Black Caiman, Melanosuchus niger.

Now conducting further research for her PhD with Salford University, Luiza is comparing the behaviour of the Trinidadian Monkey Frog, Phyllomedusa trinitatis, a close relative of another species found where she is from in Brazil.


The non-invasive research work in the vivarium involves assessing animals being maintained in different conditions, and it is hoped that Luiza’s study will provide us with a much better understanding of the effects a variety of husbandry techniques have on the captive animals so we can best retain their natural instincts, wild state of health, and maintain them in the best possible conditions so they are fit for the future.

Luiza’s Phd research is supported by Science Without Borders, a wonderful supportive academic initiative by the Brazilian Government.

 Luiza’s research     Chris’s research    Science Without Borders      Salford Uni

Happy Easter!


Newborn chameleon loves the leaves made by pupils of Trinity and St Michaels.

Most people associate Easter with the birth of spring lambs and chicks – but in our house its something different..  Last week we had an unexpected surprise – the birth of 12 baby Jackson’s chameleons! After months of speculation as to whether our pigmy female was just fat with wind, she finally gave birth. What an amazing sight, the tiniest of chameleons, everywhere!

Last week was a fantastic week in many ways, ending in the BHS herpetological symposium, which was very well received. It was a pleasure hosting it and I would sincerely like to thank all those who attended, the other speakers, and the BHS for their most welcome support of our Lemur Frog Project.


Chameleon by Esmee, Reception, Trinity and St Michaels

Midweek, I also had the opportunity to teach at a local school, and share all about Costa Rica, one of my favourite places. The whole school welcomed me and all the pupils and staff were absolute stars. It was wonderful to teach so many enthusiastic and well-behaved children. It really was a pleasure to visit Trinity and St Michaels Primary School with all the animals. Thank you so much to all the children who have shown their appreciation, I loved the card! Maybe more from them soon, but for now, let me sure some of their pics and from us and our new baby chameleons, we wish you all a Very Happy Easter!

TRINITY AND ST MICHAELS                BHS                  MUJI CHAMELEONS