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Fly Orchid
Ophrys insectifera

Although less well-known due to its rarity than the Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera, the Fly Orchid flower is the most demonstrative of Ophrys species' ability to mimic the appearance of insects and hence to attract pollinators. Like many of our orchids, Ophrys insectifera populations are in decline due to loss of habitat, and in Britain it is on the Red List of threatened orchids and classified as Vulnerable. The plants are tall and slender with drab flowers making them difficult to spot; however, once seen they cannot fail to fascinate the observer of their tiny fly-like flowers. Although Ophrys insectifera is still relatively widespread in England, where its range extends from Cumbria southwards, it is highly localised in various lime-rich habitats. This orchid is also found in central and western Ireland. In Wales Ophrys insectifera is well known from the fenlands in Anglesey. Fly Orchids flower from late April to the end of June. This orchis species is confined to Europe, but it has a huge range extending from Finland and Russia in the north to Spain in the south.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Fly Orchid from BSBI are shown on the map with most recent in front. (Hover the mouse over the small map to expand it.)

CLICK HERE to visit the BSBI website page for updated data and maps with separated data for individual record periods

Plant: 15-60cm.
Leaves: 3-5 narrow, keeled greenish-blue leaves some of which arch outwards from the stem. The upper leaves are narrower and pointed and loosely sheath the stem.
Bracts: lanceolate with rolled-in margins, dark green with a blue tinge.
Flowers: the sepals are greenish-yellow. The upper sepal is held vertically and arches forward over the lip, and the lateral ones are horizontal. The lip is long and hangs downwards. It is velvety in texture and divided into three lobes. The two side lobes extend outwards and the lower lobe is notched at the tip. The lip is a dark purple-brown with a distinct pale greyish-blue patch (speculum) across its centre. At the base of the lip are two shining 'pseudoeyes' which further emphasise the fly-like appearance of the flower.

Image Gallery for Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera


Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

These orchids are pollinated by male digger wasps that are attracted by the shape and texture of the flower and also by the pheromones which they emit. After landing on the flower, the insect attempts to copulate with it - so-called pseudocopulation - and during this process the pollen-bearing pollinia attach to the head or back of the insect. Pollination rates are low, seldom rising beyond 10 percent.

The Fly Orchid belongs to the Ophrys genus. Its Latin name derives from the Latin words 'insecta' and 'fero' meaning 'insect-bearing'.

There are no subspecies, but there is considerable variation in the flowers: Ophrys insectifera var. ochroleuca has a greenish-yellow lip with a white speculum and has been reported from Kent, Wiltshire and Hampshire. Ophrys insectifera var. flavescens has a yellowish-brown lip and a blue or white speculum; it is reported from Gloucestershire. Ophrys insectifera var. subbombifera has a very broad central lobe and is reported from Surrey and Hampshire. Ophrys insectifera var. parviflora has much smaller flowers than is usual. Ophrys insectifera var. luteomarginata has a central lobe with a broad yellow margin and is reported from Surrey, Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Anglesey. Two hybrids are recorded: Ophrys x pietzschii is a hybrid with the Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera, and Ophrys x hybrida is a hybrid with the Early Spider-orchid Ophrys sphegodes.

Articles about Fly Orchid in JHOS

Mike Gasson (2013) Pollination in the Fly Orchid. JHOS 10: 60-66