Friday, October 18, 2013

Midnight moths and primrose genes

Moonrise over White Sands. Image courtesy of Patrick Alexander
under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

It's easy to talk about science or science history in the abstract, especially when you're thinking about long stretches of time, and to lose sight of what it means to actually do science. So how about a video showing scientific research being done in the field?

Episode 4 of the series Plants Are Cool, Too!, "Sundrops and Hawk Moths," features host Chris Martine of Bucknell University and Krissa Skogen of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Skogen studies native pollinators (pollinators other than honeybees, basically), and the video shows her at work at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. She's looking at the interaction between the hawk moth and some primrose species at White Sands.

It's a cool video. I'd never seen anyone unroll a moth's proboscis and collect pollen from it, and I didn't know that you could gather the scent from a single flower and compare it with the scent from other flowers. One of the interesting things about the moths is that they cover much greater distances than bees and don't have any kind of a home to return to. The most evocative line in the whole video was the one about moths spreading the genes of these plants around. Not to mention that White Sands is a magical setting. Enjoy!

Full disclosure: My son, Patrick Alexander, Postdoctoral Curator at the NMSU Department of Biology Herbarium, helped with the production of this film.

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