Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Hungry times ahead for endangered pygmy-possums as billions of Bogong moths go missing

Donna Coutts, September 18, 2019 7:00PM Kids News

Print Article

Mountain pygmy-possums are tiny alpine animals that only weigh 45g but they can’t survive without Bogong moths to eat. Picture: Nicole Cleary media_cameraMountain pygmy-possums are tiny alpine animals that only weigh 45g but they can’t survive without Bogong moths to eat. Picture: Nicole Cleary

animals

Reading level: green

Scientists are calling on Australians to start counting moths to help save the critically endangered mountain pygmy-possums.

The possums are facing starvation because the Bogong moths they eat have disappeared.

Zoos Victoria is leading a massive national project to help citizen scientists track the moths to learn more about their annual migration and help predict what’s in store this summer for the animals that usually eat them, including the mountain pygmy-possums.

Each spring, 4.4 billion Bogong moths leave their breeding grounds in Queensland, New South Wales and western Victoria and migrate to the alpine* areas of Victoria and NSW.

Bogong moth . / Insects moths media_cameraBogong moths are important food for mountain pygmy-possums.

Every year for thousands of years, just as the pygmy-possums emerge from the snow after their winter hibernation, the moths have arrived for them to eat.

For the past two springs, the population of moths arriving in alpine areas has crashed to almost nothing.

Last year, scientists discovered that 50-95 per cent of the pygmy-possums had lost their entire litters of joeys because they had starved.

“Females lost their young last spring, with a large proportion carrying dead joeys in their pouches. In the worst-impacted population, 95 per cent of females we surveyed lost their young,” Zoos Victoria CEO Dr Jenny Gray said.

media_cameraMountain pygmy-possums waking from hibernation in spring at Healesville Sanctuary, Victoria. Picture: supplied

There are thought to be only 2000 mountain pygmy-possums left in the wild and the species was considered extinct until it was rediscovered at Mt Hotham, Victoria, in the 1960s.

Scientists believe that the Bogong moth population is collapsing because of widespread and severe drought, flood irrigating rice and cotton crops, spraying crops with pesticides* and light pollution in towns and cities, which attracts the moths away from their natural migration path.

Bogong moths stray from their natural migration path because they are attracted to light. On normal years, they swarm around the lights of Parliament House, Canberra. media_cameraBogong moths stray from their natural migration path because they are attracted to light. On normal years, they swarm around the lights of Parliament House, Canberra.

“We talk of the butterfly effect, where a small action in one place grows into a disaster in another,” Dr Gray said.

“The lack of flutter of moth wings may well herald* the doom of a cute, fluffy, hibernating possum half a continent away. It’s critical that we take action this spring.”

Where have all the Bogong moths gone?

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP
1. Turn off your lights
In September and October, turn off unnecessary lights at night if you live in Victoria, NSW and ACT.

If you know someone who lives in these areas, ask them to turn off their lights.

Zoos Victoria has also asked that the lights be turned off at Parliament House, Canberra and at sports stadiums in NSW, Victoria and ACT.

2. Record Bogong moth sightings
Zoos Victoria has created a moth tracker, on which you can record where and when you see Bogong moths. You can also upload photos of moths to the site.

There’s more information at zoo.org.au

GLOSSARY

  • alpine: relating to high mountains
  • pesticides: chemicals to kill insects
  • herald: a sign of something about to happen

EXTRA READING

Our 20 most endangered animals

Our insects are in big trouble

Tiny bats have a big job

Hitchhiking frog crosses Nullarbor

Massive Australian spider eats whole possum

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What have moths got to do with pygmy-possums?
  2. How many Bogong moths are supposed to migrate each year?
  3. Why were the pygmy-possum joeys dying last year?
  4. How many pygmy-possums are thought to be left in the wild?
  5. What two things can you do to help protect and track the Bogong moths this September and October?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Plan a holiday
Design a poster or write the script of a radio, TV or online advertisement. Your aim is to convince as many kids as possible to use Zoos Victoria’s moth tracker.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Media Arts

2. Extension
In the story, Dr Gray describes the Butterfly Effect: “where a small action in one place grows into a disaster in another”. Write a story that could help a younger student understand what this means.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Geography, Critical and Creative Thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalist has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Will you turn off lights at night and track Bogong moths? Do you think it’s important we save the moths and the possums?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in animals