Moth surveys at the Grampians Bioscan


Marilyn Hewish: This is called a light station. Moths are attracted to light. Nobody really knows why. This light's called a mercury vapour light and it shines light at just the right frequency to attract the moths.

What they will do is they will come in, land on the sheet, they might buzz around a little bit but then they'll stay, so they're easy to photograph because you basically have them captured by the light. So we photograph them first and then if they're something interesting or new for this survey, we'll collect it and take it to the museum.

I got into this research by firstly being a birdwatcher and one day I sat under a tree and a whole lot of what I thought were butterflies were flying around and they were very beautiful and I found out they were moths. And from that moment, I thought moths were more interesting than I ever imagined. And I visited the museum and there's a man there, Peter Marriott, who's been studying moths for 20 years and I started helping him and I've never looked back and I think I'm now addicted.

A lot of our moth species don't have names because no scientist has given them the name and so almost any time we go out we can discover new distribution records, new species for the state, even species new to science. And so coming to the Grampians it's like a little island of forest in the middle of a largely flat area. It's going to contain a fantastic assortment of species and it's going to tell us a lot about distribution. I've already found one species this trip which was only known east of Melbourne. So that's a huge extension in range. It doesn't surprise us because this is happening all the time.

If you consider the moth's place in the food chain then a bat is 90 per cent moth and a bird with chicks, the chicks are 50 per cent moth so it's a really important part of the food chain. Also some moths pollinate plants and the other thing people don't think about is a lot of the caterpillars live down in the leaf litter and they eat it. And so, if you have a healthy caterpillar population down in the leaf litter, it keeps down the leaf litter and is good for fuel reduction. So they really are very important even though they're mostly invisible.

I love the moment when you've been, you've been circling the sheet and nothing much has come in and it's cold and it's windy or there's too many beetles at the sheet and then suddenly you walk around and something wonderful has appeared because people call moths brown and boring and moths get a really bad press but some of them can be astonishingly beautiful and some of them can be big. We got one the other night, it's one of the rain moth group and it's bright green and red-brown and it's about five to six centimetres long and the brown parts are like woodgrain and it's just the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. So at any moment, something like that can appear.

About this Video

Marilyn Hewish of the Entomological Society of Victoria joined the Museum Victoria / Parks Victoria team on the 2012 Grampians Bioscan, as an expert in moths. Here she talks about her love for this group of insects.
Length: 03:36