These strange orchids look just like a monkey's face

April 1st, 2021

It’s easy to sleep on orchids when daisies and roses are getting all the attention. These bilateral, serene, sometimes solemn-looking flowering plants are just as gorgeous as any big, red rose. They come in a whole bunch of shapes and sizes too.

And there happens to be one particular orchid that might stand out in that category.

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Melbourne Fresh Flowers on Instagram Source: Melbourne Fresh Flowers on Instagram

Meet Dracula simia, or as it’s known by its common name, the Monkey face Orchid. It’s not hard to see why it’s called that. Can you imagine the first person to have stumbled upon one of these? I bet they had to do a double take. I definitely would.

There’s no mistaking the monkey-ness here. From that unmistakably primate-looking muzzle, to the teeth and the eyes.

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Knuje Mapson on Instagram Source: Knuje Mapson on Instagram

This orchid looks like it’s going to start flinging its own poo at me.

Dracula as a genus is pretty widespread, and pretty numerous too. Boasting 118 species of various colors, there’s enough monkey faces in this genus to fill a whole photobook. If you fancy trying to spot one of these flowers in the wild, your best bets are Ecuador, Peru, Central America, Mexico and Colombia.

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Odyssey Guide on Facebook Source: Odyssey Guide on Facebook

Dracula simia itself bears some uncanny resemblance to the Capuchin and Macaque.

Yes, the genus is named “Dracula”. Although we associate the name with a rather popularly-known blood-sucking character, the name itself means “Little dragon”.

Isn’t etymology fun to learn about?

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Morpholab Barcelona on Twitter Source: Morpholab Barcelona on Twitter

But enough about the vampire, we’re here to talk about plants and monkeys. Just why do these orchids look like the splitting image of a monkey’s face? I have pretty strong doubts they have natural predators that are afraid of monkeys.

As they say on the internet, “Reject modernity. Return to monke”.

The resemblance to monkeys looks almost too good to be a coincidence. While Dracula simia is over there looking like a Capuchin, its sibling, Dracula benedictii, looks strikingly similar to a Baboon’s face. Evolution showing what’s possible, once again.

For a more iconic ape’s likeness, look no further than Dracula radiosa. This one looks just like a Chimpanzee’s mug, and you’d have to be pretty blind to not see it.

But are they really trying to look like monkeys, or are we just seeing what we want to see?

Funny as it may be to see a monkey’s face in there, the reality of these orchids’ outward appearance might surprise you. These things didn’t evolve to look like monkeys, but actually mushrooms. Yeah, I don’t blame you for not immediately seeing the resemblance.

A paper by Policha et al. 2016 looked into these very orchids, and through some useful 3D printing and testing, the results revealed a mushroom-mimicry rather than monkey-mimicry.

The fact that these orchids have “eye” spots too just conveniently lent itself to a monkey look. They sure had us fooled!\

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The RHS on Twitter Source: The RHS on Twitter

That’s an old thing called pareidolia. Seeing what you want to see, even if it’s not really there. Orchids trying to look like mushrooms, and looking like monkeys instead? No that’s a combination of words I’d never expected to hear.

Did any of this peak your itch to learn? I sure hope so. If you have any friends who you think would love to learn about these bizarre orchids, then please share this article with them!

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Source: [Genus Dracula on Wikipedia, Policha and colleagues 2016 published in NPH, Pareidolia on Wikipedia]