Satyrium muticum

The Satyrium muticum (Sticky Satyre) is an incredible ground orchid which was found on Gondwana Game Reserve in 2017. At that time the Sticky Satyre was only known from three locations with less than 250 plants per population and a status of being critically endangered due to habitat loss. Since 2017 the Conservation team has identified 9 locations on Gondwana Game Reserve where this species grows. Through the work done on Gondwana Game Reserve the status of the Sticky Satyre has decreased to endangered.

The conservation team has an exclosure site at which they have been monitoring the populations numbers. The population numbers are consistent at the site at approximately 2600 plants however we have observed a decrease in the number of flowers and an increase in the number of plants that are eaten by animals such as mice, rats, cape grysbok and baboons. There is very little known about the ecology and specifically the pollination of this species.

In 2019 the conservation team was approached by Prof Timo Van Der Niet and Prof Steve Johnson from the University of KwaZulu Natal wanting to come and observe the Sticky Satyres. Their specific interest was in the plant-pollinator ecology. After making observations in 2019 Prof Van Der Niet once again came through to Gondwana Game Reserve in 2023 to further investigate the plant-pollinator ecology.

During his time on the reserve the conservation team took Prof Van Der Niet to 3 of the 9 populations. Most of the teams time with Prof Van Der Niet was spent recording observations of possible pollinators. The initial hypothesis, prior to their visit in 2019, was that the Sticky Satyre might mimic the shape, colour or scent of a Gladiolus species and in this way attract pollinators. What has been observed both in 2019 and again in 2023 is that the Sticky Satyre is regularly visited by monkey beetles. The monkey beetles crawl into the flower where the sticky vescidium attach to their backs and allows for the removal of the pollinaria from the flower. The pollinaria then gets taken by the beetles into other flowers and pollinates them.

Other information collected was on the nectar production of the Sticky Satyre. This is important as nectar may be a reward for possible pollinators. Most Satyrium species have two long spurs at the back that contains nectar, the Sticky Satyre does not have these spurs. To test for nectar water was placed in the back of the flowers and tested for dissolved sugars after 10 min. It was observed that there was no sugar present, which may indicate nectar is not a reward in the Sticky Satyre.

A couple of the Sticky Satyres where then covered with plastic bags and attached to a device that sucks out the air and allows to scent molecules to be captured. This will then be analysed in a lab to see if a scent is produced by the Sticky Satyres and if there is what the scent composition is. Samples have also been collected of the Gladiolus mutabilus which grows among the Stick Satyres as well as other flowering plants in the area. A colour analysis will be done to determine fi the Sticky Satyre has a similar colour spectrum to attract specific pollinators.

The conservation team is excited to contribute to this important research and thank Prof Van Der Niet and Prof Steve Johnson for their continued interest in our wonderful reserve and the work that we do.

Text and Photographs by Jolandie Buck

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