Endangered moth has its day in the sun

BY JANE CANAWAY
02 Dec, 2008 09:22 AM

IMAGINE having two days left to live to find a mate, settle down and lay some eggs to ensure your time on earth was not wasted.

It’s a tough call even by insect standards, but is made harder for the elusive golden sun moth – once common across Moonee Valley – whose life cycle revolves around ever-decreasing patches of wallaby grass and waiting for perfect weather conditions.

Researchers know that its habitat is in decline but need to know more about other factors in its life.

“Volunteer monitoring will give us a bit of a guide as to what’s going on and tell us a little bit about how long the [mating] season is – we think it varies between the years,” Caitlin Griffith said.

As Victorian National Parks Association’s NatureWatch co-ordinator, she will be leading some surveys this summer to count the critically endangered moth at a Derrimut site.

“Because there are only small areas of grasslands a long way apart it can’t travel from one to the next,” Ms Griffith said. “It can be found in Craigieburn and Delahey and Derrimut and some other scattered sites across to Nhill.”

Werribee Open Plains Zoo tried to reintroduce the moth to a four-hectare, specially planted habitat a few years ago; it took three summers to find two of the shy female moths.

“We put them in with a net over them to protect them from birds and we have waited to see if any young emerged – it can take about three years – but we have never seen any,” zoo keeper Kwai Cang-Kum said.

The Derrimut survey will be the first at this site, but a number of community surveys have been run at Craigieburn, where up to 800 moths have been seen.

Organised by the Merri Creek management committee (MCMC), the survey information has been passed on to RMIT, LaTrobe University, the federal Environment Department and Parks Victoria. MCMC technical officer Brian Bainbridge said volunteers were still needed for the two sites being surveyed this year: the grasslands at Craigieburn and another in Campbellfield.

Volunteers should register for December surveys; organisers will phone to confirm if suitable weather conditions are forecast. Contact MCMC at www.mcmc.org.au or phone 9380 8199; for Derrimut, visit www.vnpa.org.au, email caitling@vnpa.org.au or phone 9341 6513.

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Article by Jane Canaway

British-born, schooled in Holland and Wales, I worked my journalism cadetship in the Home Counties, escaped to London, then spent a couple of years travelling before settling in Melbourne, where I have written and edited for a range of publications, including Pacific Magazines [Your Garden, Home Beautiful, New Idea] and Fairfax Community Newspapers. Now a mother of two wonderful teenagers, I write about gardening, sustainability and people, when I can drag myself away from the vegie patch and my saxophone.
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