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Early Spider-orchid
Ophrys sphegodes

The Early Spider-orchid is classed as Nationally Scarce and is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countyside Act. Its UK distribution is almost entirely restricted to the South Coast between Kent and Dorset, where it is locally abundant. Ophrys sphegodes flowers early (with year-on-year variability due to weather conditions) from late March to early June. This orchid favours short-sward unimproved grassland with underlying chalk or limestone, but it has also been known to appear in large numbers on disturbed ground, such as spoil heaps, and in old quarries. Ophrys sphegodes is confined to Europe and is distributed from Greece westwards to Spain and its range extends to France and Belgium in the North.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Early Spider-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: 5-15cm tall but occasionally to 45cm. When competing with longer grass the plants tend to grow taller.
Leaves: greyish-green and strongly veined. The 3-4 lower leaves are short with blunt tips, while the upper leaves are narrower, have pointed tips, and loosely sheath the stem.
Bracts: pale green, lanceolate and blunt-tipped.
Flowers: most plants have 2-7 flowers but taller plants may have up to 17 widely spaced along the stem. The sepals are pale yellowish-green with blunt tips. The petals are strap-shaped, shorter and narrower with square tips and wavy margins. Petals are sometimes pinkish. The lip is round and convex; it is very velvety and rich dark brown-to-purple with paler shading to yellow outer margins. The mirror (speculum) is a deep slate-blue colour, often in the form of H or X.

Image Gallery for Early Spider-orchid Ophrys sphegodes

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Pollinated by male solitary bees Andrena nigroaenea, which are attracted by the shape and texture of the flower and also 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 of the insect. Pollination rates are variable due to a lack of suitable insects, and it has been suggested that many of the British populations are self-pollinated. The stability of the current populations seems to suggest that sufficient seed is being produced.

The Early spider-orchid belongs to the Ophrys genus. Its scientific name derives from the Greek word 'sphekeion' which means 'small wasp-like spider'.

In Europe numerous subspecies are described. Two hybrids are known to occur in the UK: Ophrys x hybrida is a hybrid with the Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera, and Ophrys x obscura is a hybrid with the Late Spider-orchid Ophrys fuciflora; both are recorded from Kent.

Articles about Early Spider-orchid in JHOS