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Great Discovery - When Bees Are Away, Moths Come Out To Pollinate

Even at night, pollination action is still ongoing. Most flowers are still accessible at night, while some flowers close after the sun goes down. Thus, when bees are away, moths come out to pollinate.

Author:Camilo Wood
Reviewer:Dexter Cooke
Aug 04, 2023
It is well known that bees pollinate flowers.
They've also received nearly all the credit for pollinating red clover blossoms over the past century.
However, it appears that bees don't work alone.
According to a recent study, when bees are away, moths come out to pollinate.
They visit red clover blossoms around one-third of the time.
While bees are sleeping, the unseen insects labor late into the night.

What Is Pollination?

Pollination is the transfer of pollen to a plant's female reproductive system (stigma in flowers).
Pollen is produced by a plant's male reproductive organs (the stamens in flowers) and includes the genetic material required for plant reproduction.
Self-pollination is transferring pollen from one plant to the female organs of another of the same species (cross-pollination).
Pollination causes plants to produce seeds.
Wind, water, and animal pollinators, including insects, bats, and birds, can distribute pollen.
Black and brown moth flying over purple flowers
Black and brown moth flying over purple flowers

Research About Moth Pollination

Jamie Alison researched and studied moth pollination.
At Aarhus University in Denmark, he researches pollinating animals.
He calls clover a "useful agricultural plant."
It is fed to livestock.
Numerous studies have examined it.
However, none of those studies mentioned the potential for moth pollination.
Nearly by chance, Alison and his colleagues learned about the function of moths.
They wanted to find out how vegetation and insect pollinators reacted to climate change.
So, in the Swiss Alps, the team installed 15 time-lapse cameras.
They were able to monitor pollinator visits to grassland plants like clover.
According to Alison, the possibility of having someone observe what is visiting a flower for a full 24 hours is unrealistic.
Fortunately, cameras allow you to accomplish that.
The cameras observed thirty-six red clover blooms between June and August 2021.
Nine cameras captured photographs in the afternoon and once more at night.
Every five minutes, six more people took pictures.


More than 164,000 images of red clover blooms were ultimately captured.
Only 44 of these had pollination visits from insects. Bumblebees made up over 60% of the nectar-seekers (Bombus).
Thirty-four percent of the population, however, were moths.
Most of these were huge yellow underwings (Noctua pronuba), which came out early in the morning.
According to Alison, moths are known to pollinate various plants.
However, their contribution to clover pollination has been disregarded.
Alison's team also discovered a hitherto undiscovered benefit of moth pollination.
More seeds were produced by clover when moths visited at night.
According to Daichi Funamoto, it is evident that "the significance of nocturnal moths as pollinators of crops has largely been disregarded."
He was not a part of the study.
Although he does research pollination at the University of Tokyo in Japan.
According to him, further research may reveal that moths visit numerous plants that are assumed only to be pollinated by insects during the day.
Alison's team is now interested in finding where else moths might pollinate red clover.
The researchers plan to use artificial intelligence software to use cameras for this project.
These programs would be taught to recognize and categorize different pollinator species at flowers.
Alison asserts, "The future isn't just cameras."
But cameras ought to play a significant role.
Brown colored moth
Brown colored moth

UCL Research

Recent work from University College London also indicates that moths are essential participants in many pollination networks.
Under cover of night, UCL researchers saw a wide variety of moths carrying pollen from various plant species, including some flowers that bees don't frequently visit.
Thanks to their hairy underbellies, where researchers collected pollen samples, the study revealed that moths are better at pollination than previously supposed.
Moth numbers are declining, and we are learning more about how crucial they are for pollination, which emphasizes the need to include these nocturnal pollinators in pollinator conservation initiatives.

Yucca Moth Pollination

A great illustration of an interdependent plant-pollinator connection is yucca: Yucca moths of the genera Tegeticula or Parategeticula are the only pollinators of plants in the genus Yucca, and the larvae of these moths only consume yucca seeds.
It's incredible that female yucca moths purposefully fertilize the blossoms.
They fly to another member of that yucca species, deposit the pollen there, lay their eggs, and then collect pollen from the plant where they have mated.
Wide varieties of yucca plants depend on a single moth species to complete their life cycle and vice versa because plants and pollinators have such a strong relationship.


Examples Of Moth Pollination

A large portion of the Lepidoptera's pollination taxa are found in the moth families Sphingidae (hawk moths), Noctuidae (owlet moths), and Geometridae (geometer moths), as well as the butterfly families Hesperiidae (skippers) and Papilionoidea (common butterflies).
The nectar of different flowers provides these lepidopterans' adult stages with nourishment and water; while doing so, pollination may occur.
Moths and butterflies have separate pollinator niches because butterflies are diurnal or active during the day, and they visit open blooms in the early morning when it is sunny.
On the other hand, moths are more active at night and in the evening (nocturnal).
Some flowers may attempt to improve pollination in reaction to this by changing color throughout 24 hours to draw in butterflies during the day and moths at night.
For instance, the Quisqualis Indica flower's color changes from white to pink to red, possibly signaling a change from moth to butterfly pollination.
According to a Chinese study, different pollinators, principally moths at night and bees and butterflies during the day, are drawn to distinct floral color stages.
Additionally, white blooms produced more fruit than pink or red blossoms, suggesting that moths were more critical to the reproductive success of this plant.
Even though adult butterflies and moths play a crucial role in pollination, their larvae, sometimes known as caterpillars, may be costly pests in urban, rural, and agricultural settings.
In other cases, their negative reputation as ecosystem service providers as adults takes a backseat to their notoriety as agricultural villains.

Nectar And Pollen Consumption

The feeding preferences of adult moths differ depending on the species, populations, generations, sexes, age ranges, and individuals.
Most adult lepidopterans use liquid resources such as nectar, dead animals, dung, and fruit sap, while certain lepidopterans may not eat at all.
Moths ingest nectar via active suction using their extended mouthparts (called proboscis) and usually avoid extremely concentrated nectar because of its high viscosity.
In terms of nutrition, nectar provides moths with a source of water, carbohydrates, and amino acids, which helps them fulfill their need for nitrogen.
Interestingly, moth-pollinated flowers tend to have larger quantities of amino acids than blooms pollinated by bees and other animals.
This is surprising because it has long been believed that insects like moths, whose larval stages feed on plant foliage and adult stages on nectar, obtain most or all of the nitrogen-rich compounds necessary for reproduction from larval feeding.
Contrary to popular belief, research has demonstrated that some moth species' fecundity (number of offspring produced) and life duration can be influenced by both nectar and larval food intake.
For instance, a recent study discovered that the nectar-feeding moth Araschnia Levana greatly boosted its fertility due to nitrogen-rich chemicals (amino acids) present in nectar.
However, only when the female consumed a low-quality plant as a larva did their fertility increase.
This implies that nectar may serve as an essential dietary supplement for butterflies raised on plants low in nitrogen.
Brown moth sitting on a white flower
Brown moth sitting on a white flower

People Also Ask

Which Is Pollinated By Moth?

The tiny yucca moth, which lives concealed inside the creamy-white blossoms of the yucca plant, is the solitary pollinator of those blooms, making it a crucial link in the life cycle of the plants.
Yucca plants and yucca moths coevolved to become dependent on one another.

What Is The Process Of Insect Pollination?

Moths do pollination by nectar-eating insects. The pollen adheres to the bug while it does this, allowing the insect to collect it.
Pollination occurs when an insect visits a different flower in search of more nectar and transfers pollen from its body to the stigma.

Why Moths Pollinate Flowers At Night?

Moths can't help but bump into the pollen on the plant's reproductive parts when they drink nectar, which causes it to attach to them.
This is because their bodies have a tendency to stick very closely to the landing surface of the flower when they are at rest. Thus, when bees are away, moths come to pollinate.


The pollination process is believed to be done by bees only, however recent studies have proven that moths also play an active role in plant reproduction.
When other insects sleep at night, the pollination process is carried by moths.
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Camilo Wood

Camilo Wood

Camilo Wood has over two decades of experience as a writer and journalist, specializing in finance and economics. With a degree in Economics and a background in financial research and analysis, Camilo brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to his writing. Throughout his career, Camilo has contributed to numerous publications, covering a wide range of topics such as global economic trends, investment strategies, and market analysis. His articles are recognized for their insightful analysis and clear explanations, making complex financial concepts accessible to readers. Camilo's experience includes working in roles related to financial reporting, analysis, and commentary, allowing him to provide readers with accurate and trustworthy information. His dedication to journalistic integrity and commitment to delivering high-quality content make him a trusted voice in the fields of finance and journalism.
Dexter Cooke

Dexter Cooke

Dexter Cooke is an economist, marketing strategist, and orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience crafting compelling narratives that resonate worldwide. He holds a Journalism degree from Columbia University, an Economics background from Yale University, and a medical degree with a postdoctoral fellowship in orthopedic medicine from the Medical University of South Carolina. Dexter’s insights into media, economics, and marketing shine through his prolific contributions to respected publications and advisory roles for influential organizations. As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in minimally invasive knee replacement surgery and laparoscopic procedures, Dexter prioritizes patient care above all. Outside his professional pursuits, Dexter enjoys collecting vintage watches, studying ancient civilizations, learning about astronomy, and participating in charity runs.
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