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Hidden Treasures: How Pete Found Moths During Lockdown 2020

Updated: May 17, 2021

By 'Possum' Pete Crowcroft

I love moths now. I didn’t always.

Sure, I found them fascinating, I never disliked them, but didn’t go beyond the "Oh, that’s a cool moth!" level. Now though I am in deep, and like many things that you take for granted, once you scratch the surface and delve into understanding more about them, moths truly are a gift that keep on giving.

For me they have been an exciting project during our times in lock-down, because when I turn on the light at night, they come to me in their glorious diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors. Often exquisitely camouflaged to avoid predation during the day, they might match beautifully with a eucalyptus leaf, bark, or even dried sap. I suggest that purely on a biodiversity level, moths represent the pinnacle taxon (group of animals) for sheer number of different species available to observe and identify at your own home (except perhaps if you got out the microscope and sifted your way through the worm farm or compost heap).

There’s over 2000 species recorded in Victoria alone, and more awaiting discovery (Moths of Victoria, Vol 1, 2017). So far my personal tally at home sits at nearly two hundred different, unique, species.

They are incredibly important as pollinators and as food for birds. In fact, it is suggested by Professor Ken Walker on his recent appearance talking moths on Gardening Australia (link below) that if the moths were to disappear we would lose 60% of our bird species, and pollination efficiency would be catastrophically affected. The flight of billions of Bogong Moth (Agrotis infusa) to Australia’s alpine region each summer supports whole ecosystems including that of the critically endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum (Burramys parvus). Worryingly this flight has failed in recent years.

Given their habit of flying at night, moths do fly under the radar for many people. I’m keen to change that, create a few more moth lovers along the way or at least spread the understanding that moths are exceptionally valuable in our environment. I think a major factor limiting our appreciation is our physical perspective, from 5-6ft high moths are just a little bit too small for us to see in their full splendor with our naked eye. Once we take their image with a macro lens and flash though, it is much easier to appreciate these animals.

It also isn’t super helpful that many moths don’t even have a common name, and although I’ve come to love a good long-winded species name like Hypobapta tachyhalotaria(!), I know they can be a bit off putting for someone starting out. The best tip I can give you is stick with it, trust your memory, it is probably much more capable than you think. Apples, Oranges, Anthela acuta, Phallaria ophiusaria. It is still just using the same memory, you might just have to want it a bit more! Come to think of it those ones are bad examples as they all do have common names, so you should probably just use them.

Here’s a selection of photos from recent weeks photographing these cool visitors to my house in Anglesea.