Ophrys aranifera - Early Spider Orchid

Scientific Name: Ophrys aranifera (syn. O. sphegodes). 'Ophrys' = Greek for 'eyebrow', a reference to the velvety labellum (lower petal); 'aranifera' = Latin for 'spider bearer'.

English Name: Early Spider Orchid.

French Name: Ophrys araignée (= Spider Ophrys).

5 Key Characters:

  • rounded oblong red-brown velvety labellum (bottom petal) with rolled sides, often yellowish and often with projecting lumps on the upper corners.
  • shiny silver grey-blue or lavender calligraphic mark like the letter 'H' on the base of the labellum.
  • upper petals (between the sepals) small, green and often wavy edged.
  • two little beady 'eyes' in the centre of the flower, often green.
  • sepals (the two horizontal and single upper 'petals') larger than the pair of true petals they surround and bright green.
Lookalikes: Other Ophrys species, in particular O. araneola (Small Spider Orchid), but O. araneola is rarer, has a more circular shaped labellum (bottom petal) and flowers earlier (despite O. aranifera's English name it is not the earliest Spider Orchid to flower). This species is easy to recognise but there is great variability in the shape of the lower petal and the H marking, and sometimes the other parts of the flower are pink.

Habitat: Full sun to partial shade. Calcareous soils - dry to wet. Grassland, unimproved, unfertilized meadows which are occasionally flooded, dry scrubland, woodland clearings, road or trackside embankments. There are large numbers on the slopes of the big valleys, around Chinon, Ligueil, the Claise river, lakesides. Pollinated by several species of Mining Bee, Andrena spp. Known to hybridise with many other Ophrys species.

Flowering Period: April-May.

Status: Fairly common in the 3 départements, although only occurring in localised pockets north of the Loire. Can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise. We have a colony of several hundred plants in our orchard. Present in the Sologne. The most abundant spring flowering orchid of limestone sites in the Touraine Loire Valley and Brenne.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:
Photos are numbered from left to right and top to bottom. 3 Leaf rosette with bud forming in March.4 a particularly pale and yellowy specimen in our orchard, April.
4-10 in a thyme lawn next to the médiatheque, Preuilly-sur-Claise, April.
11-16 in our orchard, April.
17-18 in a thyme lawn next to the médiatheque, Preuilly-sur-Claise, April. 19 in our orchard, April.

In our orchard, May.
A female Halictus sp bee visiting the flowers. Theoretically these flowers are pollinated by male Andrena spp, who are fooled into thinking the orchid flower is a female bee (sexual deception) so it is difficult to know what the attraction for this female bee was.

A female Halictus sp bee visiting a newly opened flower. When first opened the flowers are upside down, but they twist around 180° within hours.

A female Halictus sp bee visiting a flower spike in our orchard. She landed on several flower and appeared very excited, turning every which way to access the interior of the flower.
Close-up of a single flower on a spike.

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