orchid Telipogon diabolicus
Close-up of the new orchid species Telipogon diabolicus showing its flower resembling a devil's headMarta Kolanowska

A distinctive new species of orchid has been discovered in southern Colombia. The heart of its flower bears a chilling resemblance to the head of a devil.

The strange, demon-like shape has even led scientists to call this species of orchids Telipogon diabolicus. In the journal Phitokeys, they describe its physical traits, its habitat distribution and what makes it unique compared to other orchids.

Demon head and clawed petals

Colombia is home to 3,600 orchid species, representing nearly 250 different genera – groups of species closely related to one another. Many species are yet to be discovered. This particular orchid belongs to the telipogon genus, which was first described by biologists 200 years ago.

Telipogon diabolicus is a dark violet-maroon orchid that can grow a stem measuring between 5.5-9cm in height, the authors, from the Polish University of Gdansk, explain.

Although its flower is in many ways similar to other orchids from the same genus, it has a number of very original and unique features. Apart from the demon's head hidden at its heart, the petals themselves are characteristically clawed. This is the first time such petals have been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.

orchid Telipogon diabolicus
Telipogon diabolicus is found in Southern ColombiaMarta Kolanowska

So far, its only known habitat is restricted to a single population of about 30 flowers spread across the border between the Colombian departments of Putumayo and Nariño.

This small number of flowers discovered by scientists means the orchid could be listed as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List. "It is expected that the current reconstruction of a road nearby will have negative impact on the habitat of T.diabolicus", the authors say.