Midnight Snacks: The Secret Pollination Powers of Moths

Midnight Snacks: The Secret Pollination Powers of Moths

the luna, one of many moths species

We at DFC love our bees. From adding to the biodiversity of our home in the Frontenac Arch to ensuring food supplies for the world at large, bees are superstar pollinators who have (rightly!) been earning all the press. As the hemisphere moves towards summer, the buzz of happy bees among the flowers outside has started filling the days at DFC headquarters.
But researchers at University College London have uncovered another powerhouse pollinator, that doesn’t fill the same spot in our imaginations, probably because it operates at night: The moth!
The UCL team’s research, recently published in Biology Letters, points to moths as being a more substantial contributor to pollination — and therefore crop yield — than previously thought. The study involved moths from nine pond-centred ecosystems in agricultural Norfolk, UK. They found that, not only did the moths pick up more pollen that butterflies and hoverflies (similarly to bees), but they visited a different array of plant species than any of their diurnal cousins.
“Nocturnal moth communities and daytime pollinators were surveyed once a month to see which plants they visited and how frequently.

Of the 838 moths swabbed, 381 moths (45.5%) were found to transport pollen. In total pollen from 47 different plant species was detected, including at least 7 rarely visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. 57% of the pollen transported was found on the ventral thorax of the moths.

In comparison, daytime pollinators, a network of 632 bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies, visited 45 plant species, while 1,548 social bees visited 46 plant species.”
The team’s conclusion: While daytime pollinating insects tend to visit “greatest hits” plants — maximizing their personal take of nectar by going to known prolific sources — moths are into the “deep cuts,” and going further for more obscure nectars. In terms of its effect on our food crops, the butterfly/moth approach is wonderfully complementary. The variety of the insects’ tastes supports the reproduction of a variety of plants, which helps ensure biodiversity!

The research team confirms further study is needed into the precise impact of moth pollination on food crops, but this is an excellent start. I’m sure the pollination situation in North America is similar. So, the next time a moth flits around my head as we both enjoy a warm summer night on the porch, I will wish them a hearty bon appetit!