Bees are one of the most well-known pollinators—so much so that a movement to save the bees has gained international traction. And for good reason, too: Bees move from flower to flower to spread pollen and help plants thrive. Pollination is essential for maintaining biodiversity; we need crops and plants to grow in order to have a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
But what happens when the sun goes down? Some flowers close their petals at night, while others bloom with the moon. Certain crops depend on nocturnal pollinators in order to produce seeds. If you hear something in the middle of the night in your vegetable garden, it might be a friendly pollinator helping your plants grow.
Check out these underappreciated nocturnal pollinators that are essential to our ecosystems.
6 Nocturnal Pollinators You Should Know About
Moths are one of the most common nocturnal pollinators you’ll see if you’re in North America. These fuzzy insects are the spookier version of butterflies, with designs on their wings that ward off predators. But don’t worry: they don’t bite.
Moths are essential for nocturnal pollination because they pollinate flowers that only bloom at night. The yucca plant is actually dependent on moths to complete its life cycle. And because moths have so many small hairs, they carry a lot of pollen between plants without even realizing it.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, two species of nectar-feeding bats (the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat) migrate more than 1,000 miles every spring from Mexico to work their pollinator magic in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Unfortunately, both are currently listed as federally endangered species. That’s a big problem, as many crops rely on bats for nocturnal pollination.
For example, agave, cocoa, eucalyptus, guava, and mango are able to flourish thanks to bats’ hard work. Also, bats can fly longer than insects, meaning they can distribute pollen to more places: a big win for biodiversity everywhere. Most bat species feed on insects and plant pollen, but even the rare vampire bats that feed on mammals can pollinate.
It’s true: You would not believe your eyes if 10 million fireflies lit up the world as you fell asleep. But unlike the iconic 2009 Owl City song, fireflies are a little harder to spot—especially if you live in a city.
In North America, there are 165 different species of these bright little bugs (which are actually beetles, not flies). Their life cycles are actually longer than that of typical insects, spending several months to a year underground before they’re adults and ready to mate. Adult fireflies are the ones we see lighting up humid summer evenings and feeding on pollen and plant nectar.
Not all bees are nocturnal, but there are a few bee species that pollinate after dark. For example, the Central American sweat bee has eyes that are 27 times more sensitive to light than daytime honeybees, giving them amazing night vision.
Nocturnal bees have adapted to see at night, and some can even enhance their vision even further as if they’re putting on a pair of binoculars. Nocturnal bees are also based in Central and South America, preferring a tropical climate and the sweet pollen that only flowers there can produce.
Yep, even some reptiles are pollinators. Scientists are still studying nighttime pollination, making new discoveries in real-time. Researchers recently discovered a rare flower in South Africa that’s exclusively pollinated by lizards. In Mauritius, geckos play a major role in pollinating flowering trees.
Mice and other rodents have also been seen pollinating ground flowers by feeding on nectar. Pollination provides our animal friends with the food they need to survive. Plus, the process keeps our ecosystems happy and healthy!
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