A South African daisy creates fake lady flies on its petals to entice male flies into pollinating it, according to a recent study from the University of Cambridge. The Gorteria diffusa is the only daisy that produces a three-dimensional imitation female fly.
According to Professor Beverley Glover of the University of Cambridge Department of Plant Sciences, "This daisy didn't evolve a new 'make a fly' gene. Instead, it did something even cleverer: it brought together existing genes, which already do other things in different parts of the plant, to make a complicated spot on the petals that deceives male flies.
According to the researchers, the daisy's petals provide it with an evolutionary advantage by attracting more male flies to pollinate it.
The plants grow in a harsh desert environment in South Africa, with only a short rainy season in which to produce flowers, get pollinated, and set seed before they die.
This creates intense competition to attract pollinators, and the petals with fake lady flies make the South African daisy stand out from the crowd.
According to a university press release, the group of plants that includes the sexually deceiving daisy is quite young in evolutionary terms, dating back only 1.5 to 2 million years compared to most living species.
The absence of the faux-fly spots in the earliest members of this family of daisies indicates that they must have appeared on the petals relatively quickly.
"We'd expect that something as complex as a fake fly would take a long time to evolve, involving lots of genes and lots of mutations," said study first author Dr. Roman Kellenberger.
"However, by combining three existing sets of genes, it happened much more quickly."
The study is published in the journal Current Biology.