A moth flurry on the Murray

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
15 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

There was a flurry of excitement among our moth team over the diversity of moths and some exciting new records for the region and state. Members of the Entomological Society of Victoria, Marilyn and Dean Hewish, Grace Lewis, Ken Harris and Josh Grub, set up night light stations with bright mercury vapour lamps in front a large white sheet. They run all night, as different groups of moths arrive at different times of the night. They clocked up over 120 moth species.

Two Neds Corner moths Left:Sceliodes cordalis | Right: A perfectly camouflagued Convolvulus Hawk Moth, Agrius convolvuli.
Image: M. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

There are several theories on why moths come to human light sources. The generally accepted theory is that moths use points of light in the night sky (such as the moon) to orient their flight paths. They keep the brightest light at a particular angle to their flight direction in order to fly straight. As they go past our electric lights they keep turning inwards to maintain the correct angle until they spiral into the porch light or the light station sheets.

The arriving moths came in all shapes and sizes. Two of the weirdest were the Twisted Moth and the plume moths. The Twisted Moth contorts its body as part of its camouflage to look very not-moth-like. The plume moths have long narrow wings with the rear pair hidden under the front pair. They get their name from the feathery tips to their wings.

Two Neds Corner moths Above: Twisted Moth, Circopetes obtusata looks just like a dry eucalyptus leaf. | Below: A plume moth, Stenoptilia zophodactylus
Image: M. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

Colour patterns ranged from the excellent camouflage of the hawk moths that perfectly match the grey tree bark to brightly coloured forms including some with false eye spots, known as ocelli.

Two brightly-coloured Neds Corner moths Two brightly-coloured Neds Corner moths. Left: Pale Spotted Tiger Moth, Amata aperta | Right: Grammodes ocellata with beautiful eye-spots, or ocelli.
Image: M. Hewish | D. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish | D. Hewish
 

The wood moths (family Cossidae) caused the most excitement. These beautiful moths are not particularly common and the three species found included two ornately-patterned species and a third smaller species that is a new record for Victoria. The males of these moths (and many other moth groups) can be recognised by their large feather-like antennae. These are the chemosensory organs of the males, used to 'smell' the pheromones released by the females. By contrast, females have much narrower, less-feathery antennae.

two wood moths Two wood moths. Left: Endoxyla sp. | Right: Endoxyla neuroxantha representing a new Victorian record for this species.
Image: M.Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

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Sparrow 27 December, 2011 17:53
Fantastic quality photos. I have an interest in moths and have just identified a moth I came across a while ago in my backyard in Sydney - the plume moth. Thanks.
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