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Sometimes it pays to smell like a dying bee

The smell of a dying honey bee may not sound appealing, but one species of plant uses it to lay a clever trap, according to a new study. About 5% of plants use deceiving tactics to attract pollinators, including sporting flowers that look like female bees to attract eager male pollinators. But the distinctive-looking Ceropegia sandersonii, or parachute plant (pictured above), takes things to the next level. It plays on the behavior of female flies of the genus Desmometopa, which eat the juices secreted by bees trapped in carnivorous plants. Using a mixture of four compounds, C. sandersonii was able to imitate the smell released by worker honey bees from their glands when they try to bite or sting to defend themselves, researchers report today in Current Biology. Desmometopa flies are then attracted into the flower of C. sandersonii, where they end up coated in the plant's pollen. But the plant allows them to escape—and be lured into yet another C. sandersonii plant’s flower, which the insects then pollinate. Thus, the circle of life and deception continues.