October 21, 2013

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By Heather Johns

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Filming "Plants Are Cool, Too!" is always an adventure for Professor Chris Martine, biology. But the latest episode of the web series required getting a little more hands-on with a moth's mouth than Martine was used to. || Read more about "Plants Are Cool, Too!"

To determine what desert plants in New Mexico's White Sands National Monument the giant hawk moth visits, Martine and Krissa Skogen of the Chicago Botanic Garden needed to collect the pollen off a giant hawk moth's proboscis, an elongated appendage from the head of an animal. This particular task is not easier than it sounds.

"The length of the moth proboscis is really impressive. I've told students about it and why it's important for pollination, but to actually be out there rolling one out was pretty cool," said Martine, David Burpee Chair in Plant Genetics & Research. Viewers can watch Martine and Skogen unfurl the moth's proboscis and collect pollen in "Plants Are Cool, Too!" But in the meantime, Martine explained how anyone can do it, in seven easy steps.

1. Catch the moth.

2. Hold the moth (gently) in one hand.

3. With your other hand, gently put a pin inside the moth's coiled proboscis and use the pin to uncoil it. "The moth will not love this," added Martine, "and will likely use its front legs to try to get you to stop."

4. As you move the pin away from the moth's face, the proboscis will uncoil into a long, straight straw shape.

5. Run a bit of fuschin jelly along the extended proboscis to collect any pollen that is there.

6. Release the proboscis, and it will coil back.

7. Release the moth, unharmed.


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