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Nose woes: air pollutants thwart flower-seeking bugs

Published on Jun 28, 2014 6:23 AM
A pollinating moth Manduca sexta, this one with a wing span of about 4 inches, feeds from a Sacred Dutura, or Datura wrightii, flower while flying through a wind tunnel at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington in this May 2014 picture provided by Kiley Riffell. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - You think your nose likes flowers? Well, certainly not as much as the tobacco hornworn moth. In fact, its life depends on it.

These moths, whose olfactory abilities are as good as a bloodhound's and vastly better than a human's, can fly up to 80 miles (130 km) a night searching for their favourite flowers such as the Sacred Datura.

The nectar of these fragrant white, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom only once at night is an important food source for the moths, which pollinate the flowers. Females also go to the flowers to lay eggs. After hatching, the larvae eat the plant's leaves.

Scientists have wondered how pollinating insects such as these moths track down the flowers they need and whether competing odors - natural and manmade - can mess things up.

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