The public, the media and even our politicians have been greatly concerned in recent months about the decline of bees, largely because of the importance of this group of insects as pollinators. However, bees aren’t the only pollinators. At night, moths take over as the premier plant pollinators.
Most moths visit flowers to drink nectar and, in doing so, act as pollinators. Some plants are particularly attuned to nocturnal moth pollinators, only producing nectar and scent at night, while others actually close their flowers during daylight hours.
A newly published review in the scientific journal Ecological Entomology considers case studies from Britain and around the world where moths have been identified as pollinators. It concludes that the role of moths as pollinators has been under-appreciated; moths were found to be important pollinators of hundreds of plant species in 75 different plant families and many diverse habitats. The significant decline of moths recorded over recent decades in Britain and other countries may therefore create a major problem for plants.
One of the most noticeable of all new species that have arrived and colonised Britain this century has been Cameraria ohridella, the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner. It was first recording in Britain in 2002 in London but has spread like wildfire since then, reaching Devon in 2007.
Cameraria ohridella (Dave Green)
A new study, published this month in the international journal Public Library of Science One, shows the rapid spread of the micro-moth in the UK using information from members of the public. Interestingly, the study recorded a response by parasitiods to the arrival of C.ohridella. The full report is available to read here.
Not surprisingly, given the very obvious feeding damage caused by the moth, the public and media have been very concerned about the welfare of British Horse Chestnut trees. However, another scientific study published last year looked at the impacts of C.ohridella on the health of infected trees. The news is rather surprising and can be found here.
At this time of year, C.ohridella is in the pupal stage, hidden away among the dead leaves around the Horse Chestnut trees that they inhabit, but come early summer their distinctive leaf mines will be visible on trees across the County.
Although moths fly throughout the year, opportunities for fieldwork are inevitably more limited in the winter. Therefore, Devon Moth Group organises a series of indoor meetings for members and guests.
Our first meeting of the winter, about how butterflies and moths use light to create colour on their wings, was extremely illuminating! (sorry about the pun!). Professor Pete Vukusic, an eminent physicist from Exeter University, gave us a fascinating micro-scopic tour of Lepidoptera wings explaining how the incredibly complex, minute structures on the surface of scales serve to create the appearance of colour without the use of any coloured pigments. It was a brilliant and accessible talk by a leading researcher in this field. The Prof will also go down in Devon Moth Group history for bringing more equipment to one of our indoor talks than anyone else ever!
Prof Peter Vukusic
The next indoor events is our Christmas Dinner, followed at the end of January by our AGM and what promises to be an amazing talk by artist, film-maker, naturalist, broadcaster & photographer John Walter.
Devon Moth Group was recently contacted by Louise Reynolds, a PhD student at the University of Liverpool. Louise is researching the evolutionary genetics of melanism in moths and hopes that moth recorders across Britain will be able to help in the study. She is particularly interested in the Pale Brindled Beauty and is appealing for moth-ers to help collect specimens.
If any members are interested in assisting, please get in touch with Louise by e-mail and she will send out a collecting kit.