February is the month of The Evening Primrose and the Primrose Moth

This month’s pollinator is the Primrose Moth, Schinia florida. This is a moth that would not induce screams or cries for help if it were to fly into the house; it would be welcomed because of its beautiful, unique pink, yellow, and white coloring; it would match anything Barbie. The moth may be found in the yellow leaves of the common evening primrose, Oenothera biennis. While the coloring may not seem good for camouflage in the yellow leaves of the Evening Primrose, you can see from the image above that the moth blends in quite well. Once the flower starts to die, the yellow leaves turn a pink hue that assists the moth in hiding (Pfeiffer 2019).

The Evening Primrose plays host to the moth’s life cycle. The adults roost on the flower buds during the day, will sip nectar in the evenings, and the caterpillars eat the flower buds. The caterpillars then burrow in the ground to pupate and hatch the next generation. (McCormac, 2023). Oddly, this parasitic relationship lends itself to pollination of the flowers.

Although the moth might be completely dependent on the primrose for its life cycle, the flower itself is host to other pollinators. The Evening Primrose is visited by hawk moths, sphinx moths, hummingbirds, honey bees, bumble bees, and other native bees (Parks, 2014). Yet, there is another pollinator closely associated with the Evening Primrose, The Evening primrose Sweat Bee (Lasioglossum oenotherae). While this sweat bee might also have relationships with other flowers, the female’s hind quarters are adapted with hairs that are able to handle the Evening Primrose’s oddly shaped pollen (Evening, n.d.).

The Common Evening Primrose is only one species of 150 evening primroses, and has a native habitat of all of North America. It is not viable at high altitudes, but can be found on roadsides, sunny fields, and prairies (Common, 2022). It is not particular about the type of soil so it can be grown in sandy, dry, or gravelly areas in the garden. This biennial flower lives for two years and only blooms during the second year. It will readily self-seed and come back from seed year after year (Common, 2022).

The Evening Primrose derives its name from the fact that it blooms in the evening. Shortly before sunset the flowers will slowly unfurl over a period of 5-10 minutes. The flower will then remain open all night and produce a lemony scent. By mid-day the flowers will close. Each flower typically only lasts a single day, two at the most (Common, 2022). Since the Primrose Moth seeks refuge in the Evening Primrose when the flower is open, it is rare to spot it during the daylight hours when most of us are awake enough to admire nature’s beauty.

We hope you enjoyed this month’s blog post!  To enter your name in a raffle for a beginner field guide to moths and butterflies, please click on this link. https://forms.gle/4b9jQkvZkj9T3t2n6

References

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Backyard Ecology. (2022, June 16). https://www.backyardecology.net/common-evening-primrose/

Evening Primrose Sweat Bee (lasioglossum oenotherae). Vermont Atlas of Life. (n.d.). https://val.vtecostudies.org/projects/vtbees/lasioglossum-oenotherae/

McCormac, J. (2023, August 19). Evening-primrose moth. Evening-primrose Moth. https://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2023/08/evening-primrose-moth.html#:~:text=Nearly%20the%20entire%20life%20cycle,caterpillars%20eat%20the%20flower%20buds

Parks, C. (2014, August 19). Evening primrose by any other name is a moth plant. USDA. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2014/08/19/evening-primrose-any-other-name-moth-plant#:~:text=The%20flowers%20of%20the%20plant,caterpillars%20eat%20flowers%20and%20seeds.

Pfeiffer, B. (2019, August 31). “settled in quivering contentment.” Settled in Quivering Contentment. https://bryanpfeiffer.com/2013/07/01/settled-in-quivering-contentment/

Reid, A. (2014, September 12). Pink moths?. https://westboroughlandtrust.org/nn/nn205#:~:text=Not%20surprisingly%2C%20the%20primrose%20moth,pollinating%20them%20in%20the%20process