This project is OPEN for 2020

Night-flying insects like moths, beetles (and even mosquitoes) provide pollination to flowers that stay open at night, and the strong perfumes of plants like honeysuckle and jasmine specifically evolved to draw in moths in the darkness.  Recent work has suggested that nocturnal insect pollination might be more important than we thought (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180918110914.htm), but in general we don't know a huge amount about how much pollination is provided by nocturnal insects, or what effects our own changes to the nighttime landscape (with streetlights or garden lamps) might have.

The Buzz Club are going to investigate!

We are looking to develop this project with help from our members and volunteers.  Next year we hope to be able to undertake a pollination study (using mesh bags on flowers, and plants in different places to compare to each other), but there are two elements we need your help with now:


1) Night-time observations

2) Finding a focal plant

Name:            Polli-Nightors

Year(s):           2020 -

Focus?           Nocturnal

Status?          In development /

Project lead contact:

Linda Birkin

Project summary

Interested in doing Polli-Nightors? 🌙🦋

1) Night-time observations

Most of us are - understandably - not as familiar with the nocturnal visitors to our gardens as we are with the daytime cohort.  Thus, as part of the development of this project, we want our members to get to know the night-time insects that live in, or visit, their gardens.  We aren't asking you to invest in expensive kit or spend hours prowling your flowerbeds in the dark; just to get a better idea of what you can encounter.

Do you have lots of moths?  Do you get a lot of flies? Do you not see very much at all?  The Buzz Club team will help provide identification - even better if you are able to snap a quick photograph.

The protocol is to head outside an hour or so after sunset with a torch and see what you can see.  There are several easy places to look, depending on what spaces you have access to.

We would like you to look once a week for a month / 4 weeks, ideally over August 2020.  If you want to do more than this, that’s great – you’ll just need to print more than one record sheet, and make a note of your dates.

(If you want to go into more detail in your recording, BBC Springwatch have a good blog post on moth trapping for beginners).

Places to look

On a garden-facing window.  Leave a curtain open and a light on, and see what lands on the window, attracted by the light.  This is a fairly passive search, so we suggest keeping an eye on the window over the course of an hour (e.g. check every 10 min).

By an outside light.  Insects will be attracted to and around outside lamps (e.g. security lights), so you can stand nearby and observe visitors.  We suggest doing this for 10 minutes.

On a garden walk.  Take a torch and walk slowly around the garden with the beam in front of you.  See what you spot flying across the light.  10 minutes.

On a plant.  Pick a plant that should be attractive to night insects – pale flowers and strong scent are good indicators (such as jasmine or honeysuckle).  Using a torch, see what insects you find visiting the flowers.  10 minutes.

2) Finding a focal plant


If you've been following us for a while you'll be familiar with the 'pollination exclusion' style of project: Fine mesh or fleece is used to keep pollinators away from some flowers, while free access is allowed to others, and the resulting seeds / fruit are compared.  This shows how much insect pollination the plant needs to set its fruit.  When we know this we can look at plants in different places to see if they are experiencing different levels of pollination, and what might be causing any differences.


Finding the right plant to use for this kind of study is really important.  It needs to be easy to grow, rely on pollination, and be easy to apply the experiment to.


For 'Polli-night-ors' we want a plant that is attractive to nocturnal pollinators.  The main one we're thinking of is Nicotiana alata, an ornamental tobacco plant (also known as jasmine tobacco).  Its long, pale, fragrant flowers are known to be moth pollinated - although it is less clear how reliant on that pollination modern varieties are, and that is what we need to find out.

Nicotiana alata is usually available to buy in garden centres, but the lockdowns and horticultural supply line problems this year meant we were not able to get hold of any to try out.  So we're asking if any Buzz Club members are currently growing this plant and if so, if you'd be willing to bag a few flowers and keep an eye on their pollination status for us.

We are also intereted in jasmine and evening primrose plants.  Please let us know if you have any of these growing, and would be able to help out.

Nicotiana alata (image: wikipedia 2020).  We are looking for people who are growing this plant to do a small exclusion experiment, to work out if it would be good to use in a wider project,

We are also considering evening primrose (left) and jasmine (right) as possible plants.

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