They look like small hummingbirds but they are the inflorescences of the crotalaria, a leguminous plant native to Australia and also known as the green bird flower.
However, it would not be about mimicry: we would be the ones to exchange the flowers of this plant for hummingbirds, due to a phenomenon called pareidolia.
The flowers that look like hummingbirds
A few days ago a user posted on Reddit an image of these unique green flowers, similar to small hummingbirds. These are the flowers of Crotalaria cunninghamii , a herbaceous plant belonging to the Fabaceae family. The plant is native to Australia and lives in arid soils and sand dunes.
The photograph intrigued thousands of other users and sparked a debate that developed over the course of over 400 comments, in which many asked if it was mimicry.
The mimicry in plants is a phenomenon by which a plant organism is modified to obtain a benefit, such as defend themselves against herbivores or attract pollinating insects. Some plants have evolved to make their flowers resemble the females of certain insects so that they can attract males of the same species, or they have modified their leaves to resemble those of toxic species, to deter predators.
According to Reddit users, in the case of the rattlesnake flowers , however, it would not be mimicry: the plant would in fact get no benefit from resembling a hummingbird, since that area of Australia would not be populated by hummingbirds or other small birds.
We humans would simply see a similarity between these flowers and the little birds, due to a phenomenon known as pareidolia, an illusion that leads our brain to associate the random shape of something we don’t know with a familiar shape. This is what happens when, for example, we see a face on the moon.
This does not mean that the crotalaria flower is curious and original, one of the many wonders nature offers us every day.
Photo credit Botanic Gardens & Parks Authority