The Web of Life (68-1) Pesky Pollinator

 Pesky Pollinator

The coyote tobacco prefers to rely upon the hawkmoth for pollination, as the moth visits many plants in its wide-ranging forays. The problem is that the hawkmoth is both pollinator and pest: it lays its eggs on the plant, and its larvae love eating tobacco leaves. Those plants which best reward hawkmoths with nectar are most likely to have eggs laid on them; a cruel irony indeed.

The coyote tobacco courts the nocturnal hawkmoth¬†by opening its flowers at sunset and wafting an alluring scent. This benevolence shuts down when hawkmoth larvae (tobacco hornworms) make tobacco leaves their meal ticket. The plant produces specific pesticides which decrease the caterpillars’ digestive ability.

As a final gesture of disgust, the plant stops flowering in the evening and opens for business at dawn, thereby attracting hummingbirds. Hummingbirds may not be as prolific a pollinator as hawkmoths, but at least they don’t eat you alive. Once a coyote tobacco is no longer losing leaves to hornworms the plant goes back to preferring hawkmoths as their pollinating pals.