WE SHOULD be thankful for moths, because they carry out vital work on the night shift.

We are all aware that bees are important pollinators of plants and food crops. We see busy bees during daylight hours, and so appreciate their hard work, but moths are more efficient pollinators at night.

Researchers from the University of Sussex have found that, while day-flying insects have more time available to transfer pollen, moths make an important contribution during the hours of darkness.

Studying 10 sites in the South East of England throughout July 2021, the researchers found that 83% of insect visits to bramble flowers were made during the day. The moths made fewer visits to the flowers during the shorter summer nights, notching up only 15% of the total, but pollinated the flowers more quickly.

The researchers used camera traps to monitor the numbers of insects visiting bramble flowers, and worked out how quickly pollen was deposited at different times of day by preventing insects from visiting some flowers but not others.

Fiona Mathews, professor of environmental biology at the university and co-author of this research, revealed: “Bees are undoubtedly important, but our work has shown that moths pollinate flowers at a faster rate than day-flying insects.

“Sadly, many moths are in serious decline in Britain, affecting not just pollination but also food supplies for many other species ranging from bats to birds.

“Our work shows that simple steps, such as allowing patches of bramble to flower, can provide important food sources for moths, and we will be rewarded with a crop of blackberries.”

Dr Max Anderson, South West landscape officer for the charity Butterfly Conservation, was a PhD student working alongside Prof Mathews on the paper. “Moths are important pollinators, and they are greatly under-appreciated and under-studied,” he said.

“The majority of pollination research tends to focus on day-flying insects, with little understanding of what happens at night.

“We know now that moths are also important pollinators, and we need to support them by encouraging some bramble and other flowering scrub plants to grow in our parks, gardens, road verges and hedgerows.”

Pollinating insects are a vital part of the natural world. They enable plants to fruit, set seed and breed. This in 
turn provides food and habitat for a range of other creatures.

“The health of our natural ecosystems is fundamentally linked to the health of our bees and other pollinators. However, due largely to climate change and intensive agriculture, there is widespread decline in wild populations.”

We are well aware of the need to protect day-flying pollinators, and this research shows that our night-flying pollinators also need to be protected, to allow natural ecosystems to flourish.

The researchers are asking the public to do their bit to protect moths by planting wild flowers, growing patches of scrub and rough grass, and turning off lights at night.

We need the moths, so they can carry out their important work on the night shift.