14 June 2024
Pollinating moth delight: night's noxious perfume

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Pollinating Moth Delight: Noxious Fumes at Night. Certain plants have flowers that open only in the evening, and depend on nocturnal pollinators such as moths to thrive. However, a new study has found that these moths are deterred by the noxious fumes emitted by some plants at night. This could have implications for the survival of these plants and the moths that depend on them.

Nocturnal Pollinating Moths Threatened by Nitrate Radicals

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The world of pollination is a delicate balance, with plants relying on various pollinators to reproduce and thrive. Among these pollinators are nocturnal moths, which play a crucial role in pollinating plants that bloom at night. However, a new study published in the journal Science reveals a surprising threat to these moths and the pollination process: nitrate radicals, a type of atmospheric pollutant that is particularly prevalent at night.

Nitrate Radicals: The Nocturnal Pollutant Threat

Nitrate radicals are formed when nitrogen dioxide reacts with ozone in the atmosphere. Both nitrogen dioxide and ozone are byproducts of burning fossil fuels, and they also have natural sources. However, unlike these other pollutants, nitrate radicals rapidly degrade in sunlight, making them virtually absent during the day. This unique behavior makes them a specific threat to nocturnal pollinators.

Impact of Nitrate Radicals on Moth Behavior and Pollination

The study focused on the pale evening primrose, a wildflower that relies on moths for pollination. Researchers analyzed the flower’s scent and identified the specific chemicals responsible for attracting moths. They then exposed these chemicals to nitrate radicals and found that the levels of these compounds were significantly reduced.

To assess the impact on moth behavior, wind tunnel experiments were conducted. When moths were exposed to the flower scent in the presence of nitrate radicals, their ability to recognize and navigate toward the scent was severely impaired. For one moth species, the ability to recognize the flower scent was completely eliminated, while for another species, the attraction was reduced by 50%.

Global Implications of Nitrate Radicals on Pollination

The study highlights the potential global impact of nitrate radicals on pollination. Computer simulations identified areas such as Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and southern Africa as regions where nitrate radical levels could significantly interfere with pollination. This is particularly concerning given that around three-quarters of flowering plants depend on pollinators, and over 70 pollinator species are endangered or threatened.


The study sheds light on the intricate relationship between human activities, air pollution, and the natural world. It emphasizes the need to address not only daytime air pollution but also nighttime pollutants like nitrate radicals to protect nocturnal pollinators and ensure the stability of ecosystems. By understanding these complex interactions, we can work towards mitigating the impacts of human activities on the environment and preserving the delicate balance of nature.


What are nitrate radicals?

Nitrate radicals are a type of atmospheric pollutant formed when nitrogen dioxide reacts with ozone. They are particularly prevalent at night due to their rapid degradation in sunlight.

Why are nitrate radicals a threat to nocturnal pollinators?

Nitrate radicals can reduce the levels of specific chemicals in flowers that are responsible for attracting moths. This impairs the ability of moths to recognize and navigate toward flowers, affecting pollination.

What are the global implications of nitrate radicals on pollination?

Computer simulations suggest that areas such as Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and southern Africa could experience significant interference with pollination due to high levels of nitrate radicals.

What is the impact of nitrate radicals on moth behavior?

Studies have shown that exposure to nitrate radicals can impair the ability of moths to recognize and navigate toward flowers, reducing their attraction and potentially affecting pollination success.

What can be done to address the threat posed by nitrate radicals?

Addressing nitrate radical pollution requires reducing emissions of nitrogen dioxide and ozone, which are precursors to nitrate radical formation. This can be achieved through measures such as promoting renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and implementing stricter emission standards for vehicles and industries.

Links to additional Resources:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160815141435.htm https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-moths-pollinate-night-blooming-flowers-180960932/ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/moths-pollinators-night-flowers

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Topics: Nocturnal pollination, Nitrate radicals, Moth behavior

Nocturnality is a behavior in some non-human animals characterized by being active during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is "nocturnal", versus diurnal meaning the opposite. Nocturnal creatures generally have highly developed senses of hearing, smell, and specially adapted eyesight. Some animals, such as cats and...
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Nitrate radical
Nitrogen trioxide or nitrate radical is an oxide of nitrogen with formula NO3, consisting of three oxygen atoms covalently bound to a nitrogen atom. This highly unstable blue compound has not been isolated in pure form, but can be generated and observed as a short-lived component of gas, liquid, or...
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Moths are a group of insects that includes all members of the order Lepidoptera that are not butterflies. They were previously classified as suborder Heterocera, but the group is paraphyletic with respect to butterflies (suborder Rhopalocera) and neither subordinate taxon is used in modern classifications. Moths make up the vast...
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