Environment

Um 99.5 Percent Of Bogong Moths Are Gone…So Where Are They?

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Where have all the bogong moths gone?

Sadly late last year the bogong moth was officially declared endangered, sounding an alarm for potentially catastrophic ecological consequences from this species that were once so plentiful they could block out the moon.

There used to be billions of them and they even terrorised our Executive producer Issy Phillips as a kid growing up next to turf farms — yet have you noticed they aren’t around as much anymore?

A Little History On Bogong Moths

Selfwood Australian Geographic

In 1988 the mighty bogongs completely blocked the windows of Canberra’s new Parliament House.

In 1993 at his Melbourne show, Elton John apparently accidentally swallowed one during an encore.

And at the 2000 Sydney Olympics closing ceremony millions of moths attracted to the stadium’s giant lights nearly derailed the iconic ceremony, with officials thinking the swarm was an incoming storm.

Thankfully the show went on, but one cheeky moth clung to the torso of soprano singer Yvonne Kenny while she sang the Olympic Hymn.

The Bogong moth goes back at least 2000 years, before the special guest appearances.

The word Bogong derives from the language of the Dhudhuroa Nation of North Eastern Victoria.

During the annual moth harvest, bogong moths provided reasons for ceremony, feasts and trade among the First Nations people.

Just last year archaeologists found traces of 2000-year-old bogong moths on grinding stones, which is believed to be the “oldest evidence of insects being used as a source of food for humans anywhere in the world”.

The yearly migration still happens today, covering distances of more than 1000 kilometres across Southern Queensland, to New South Wales and Western Victoria.

Starting out as caterpillars in Southern Queensland, bogong moths fly to the Bogong High Plains in Victoria’s Alpine region, to find a home in the cool caves and escape the harsh summer heat.

It was only in 2018, a major international study proved for the first time that bogong moths actually migrate and navigate by using the Earth’s magnetic field.

Why Are The Mighty Bogong Endangered?

Despite how clever the BIG critters are, agricultural practices like pesticides, and farming techniques like flooding for cotton and rice, have hurt the beloved bogong population.

As well as extreme droughts, and light pollution from huge stadium lights, which disrupt migrant routes and lure millions of moths to death each year.

Since 2016 or 2017, bogong numbers have dropped by an estimated 99.5 percent — an unprecedented decline that scientists are still trying to figure out the cause of.

Per the citizen science website Moth Tracker in 2019, that is helping to track them, there were only 54 bogong moths spotted in NSW, but this data is solely relied on by people spotting them.

Scientists have been drawing comparisons between the critically endangered mountain pygmy possum to the decline of bogongs.

In some parts of Australia, the bogong moth makes up 8 percent of the possum’s diet, with only 2000 of the possums surviving in the wild.

Dr Marissa Parrot from Zoos Victoria told The Monthly, that the moths are also “the second-biggest influx of nutrients into the Alpine zone, surpassed only by the sun”.

The ripple effect is evidence of how far reaching the bogong, and really any insect is, to holding ecosystems together. When one disappears, others follow.

We certainly aren’t ready to say goodbye to the bogong just yet.