The bad smell of success

Dead-horse arum florets smell identical to rotting animal carcasses.

Tudor Toma
Dec 11, 2002

The dead-horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus; Araceae: Aroideae) is native to a group of small islands off the coasts of Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearics. Its pollination strategy is based on fooling flies into entering its flowers (thereby transferring pollen) by emitting an odor reminiscent of a dead animal — an important egg laying stimulus for these insects. In the December 12 Nature, Marcus Stensmyr and colleagues at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden, show that the composition of volatiles from these flowers and from a rotting carcass is strikingly similar and flies respond in the same way to chemicals from both sources (Nature 420:625-626, December 12, 2002).

Stensmyr et al. used gas chromatography with simultaneous flame ionization detection and electro antennographic detection in Calliphoridae blowfly antennae to characterize the odor of samples from the arum and from a carcass. They identified that the...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?