Providing for moths and flying insects

A moth-attracting plant proves interesting while bees and wasps prefer dirty water

As darkness falls the flowers of Silene noctiflora openI've been observing a new plant, Silene noctiflora, commonly called the night-flowering catchfly.

This plant came into my life during a visit to a local nursery; it was one I hadn't seen before and I was intrigued by the name and the text on the label saying that it attracts moths, so I bought one.

The subject of moths felt close to home – the naturalist Chris Packham had been in the news saying that these days he rarely sees moths coming into his home in the New Forest, whereas when he was a boy this was very common. Same here, I thought, we sit with the windows open and lights on at night but hardly any moths fly in. At one time, we'd have needed to close the windows to stop them coming in and dancing around the light. 

Silene noctiflora only opens its flowers after dark, curling the petals tightly shut during daylight hours, so by growing this I'd see if the flowers were pollinated, which would tell me if there were moths about. So far, all the flowers have been pollinated, a good result. The seed pods are up-turned, so can easily be snipped off and the seeds saved for sowing in autumn. Since the plant is becoming more rare, I shall start growing it and giving plants away. 

The night-flowering catchfly is interesting not only because of the way it has evolved to attract moths, but because the entire plant is covered in sticky hairs which trap small insects such as gnats. I recalled how my horticulture teacher used to ask the class, 'What is the advantage of this adaptation?', a question that sparked in me a pleasant rush of excited curiosity. It turns out that the trapped insects attract larger predator insects which are big enough to not get stuck, such as ladybirds, and these help protect the plant from being damaged. Interesting to know!

Drinking spots for airborne allies

A wasp drinks dirty waterAt home, I have, like many people, been making sure there is ample water available to wildlife during this hot dry weather. I'm offering a variety of choices, though all dishes have twigs or stones in them, so that insects who fall in have a means of escape. There is deeper water for birds wishing to bathe and shallow water for insects.

So far, a dish made up to look like a dirty puddle is the one the bees, wasps and flies are favouring. The water is approximately 1cm deep with twigs and leaves in it. I had heard from a fellow bee-keeper that bees prefer dirty water and what I see appears to bear this out. Rusty at the blog Honey Bee Suite speculates that not only is dirty water more apparent to bees, because they smell it more easily than see it, they are also looking for nutrients not available in clean water. The same may well be the case for other insects. As she writes: 'If you want to provide a water source for your bees, keep it shallow, provide stepping stones or rafts, and wait for the slime to appear'. Rusty, it works! 

Please note, the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author, which are not necessarily those of the RHS.

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