Friday, 16 October 2020

Begone, Bogong

Agrotis infusa, a.k.a. Bogong Moth

High Spring, Dear Reader, has settled around us in this neck of the woods. The imposition of September's hay-fever has happily passed. Daylight Saving officiates over our time-keeping. Cardigans are off, then on, then off again. And I've had to deal with the first bogong moth for the year.

Fat, brown and fuzzy, these Eastern Australian moths make an appearance in the spring as they're migrating to the cool, granite crevices and caves in Alpine regions to aestivate (marvellous word for summer hibernation) over said summer, navigating at night like birds using magnetic fields, and then head off again back to their warmer breeding grounds in the autumn ... In their millions! 

Huddling Bogongs shingling a cave wall

The first sign that spring has truly sprung is when one of these critters comes crashing through the cedar blinds on our bedroom windows and flaps erratically toward one's head as it makes a beeline for the bedside lamps. Of course, it's way off course at this point, the bright lights of the big city are too great an attraction when the winds are not obliging it to head in the right direction*, and this specimen is thus destined not to fulfil the dictates of its life cycle.

They're harmless, naturally, and unlike other six- and eight-legged critters one must deal with semi-regularly, they're a bit big to whack and, anyway, experience teaches you the fuzz only makes a mess that will need attending to in the morning. It's not worth getting out of bed to shoo it away as it's a futile exercise and only when the lamps are switched off will they scamper off like a paperclip-sized beetle, looking for a dark and secluded hidey hole.

They don't last long once indoors, lonely disappointment no doubt contributing to their premature demise, so it's invariably carcasses that are swept up when they're finally discovered behind books or towels or cushions. In this instance, our evening pest slipped its fat self in between the glass panels of the door of the oven, and was unsubtly wedged halfway down. Hardly the cool and dark crevice it was longing for once daylight burst upon it. 

I frowned at it for a couple of days, and decided it had indeed departed this mortal coil and would need disinterring. Luckily, German engineers allowed for just such an eventuality, so it was a simple exercise to remove the oven door and take the glass layers apart. And that was that for Bogong Number 1.

In truth, they're a bit thin on the ground these past couple of years, and it's a phenomenon commented upon in zoological and lepidopterical (?) circles, it would seem.  Opinion is divided - drought, agricultural pesticides, the distractions of excessive light pollution - whatever the root cause, the millions, if not billions, of bogongs just aren't around. 

Which is bad news for the 2000-odd endangered Mountain Pygmy-possums, Burramys parvus, which awaken ravenous from their winter hibernation in the Australian Alps to feast upon the conveniently aestivating moths, all laid out neatly like tasty morsels ready to be hoovered up by these bundles of impossible cuteness. Theirs is a desperate plight if the moths don't appear ... 

Alpine Adorableness

But not so for the lepidopterophobe; the bogongs begone-ing is a blessing. And while it is thus, they need fear not such tales as this:

Growing up in Our Nation's Capital meant enduring many Rustic Delights, it being known as the Bush Capital, after all. One being that our city was particularly vulnerable to the inundation of waylaid bogongs in springtime. In the peculiar fashion of children, for whom playground amusements are like Traditional Knowledge to be passed down through the generations, it fell to the slighter older children to teach a treasured, seasonal Bogong game to the uninitiated.

When the bell rang, the Wise Elders raced into the playground during breaks clutching wooden rulers with which to whack against the drainpipes against the buildings, wherein slumbered unsuspecting hordes of lost bogongs in their thousands. The thrill of seeing the streaming clouds of startled moths, pouring from each end of the pipes, was matched only by the malicious pleasure of inducing shrieks of terror from the tinies and the teachers on playground duty as they ran helter-skelter from such waking nightmares.

* They've been known to be blown as far off course as New Zealand, which must be both a bewildering and exhilarating final journey for these small-minded creatures.


Image Credits: 1: Internet Archive via Flickr; 2: CSIRO scienceimage; 3: Department of Environment and Primary Industries via Flickr

9 comments:

Cro Magnon said...

One of our regular signs of Summer is the appearance of the wonderful Hummingbird Hawk Moths. They too are in decline, and I saw probably less than a dozen this year. The world is changing.

Pipistrello said...

Cro: I had to google - your moths are incredible! A great pity their numbers are down, too. The bogongs are not nearly so charming but I think their predators are. Yes, changes everywhere.

Hels said...

Is that image of the "huddling bogongs shingling a cave wall" photographed in situ? It actually looks beautifully designed by an artist.

Pipistrello said...

Hels: It would appear so, and you can just see a bit of the granite wall in a corner. It's unattributed on the CSIRO website but there've been researchers publishing recently. Mother Nature has a truly artistic hand .

Cro Magnon said...

I should add that when Tobacco was grown all over this area, the plants attracted Europe's biggest Moth. Unfortunately I can't remember its name, but it was almost 6 inches across. With the absence of Tobacco, also went the Moth. I never actually saw one, but it's sad to know they're no longer about.

Pipistrello said...

Cro: Gosh, as big as a little bat! Pipistrellino, if you will :) Another great loss to your area. Hopefully they are making merry somewhere else in Europe.

Loree said...

All sorts of little creatures seem to be in decline. It's a sign of these troubled times, I suppose. I am glad autumn is making itself felt here and the nasty mosquitoes have fled somewhere warmer. Enjoy your spring.

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

I’m not a great lover of moths ..... I remember when I was about 18, coming out of a country pub in my Laura Ashley maxi dress, a big fat moth flew down the top of my dress ... I don’t think that I could cope with Bogongs 😱 XXXX

Pipistrello said...

Loree: Ah, the mosquito. Such a universally reviled pest. Luckily you are getting some respite now. I saw some more springtime bloomers out & about yesterday, so more and more to enjoy now, thanks Loree.

Jackie: I'm guessing that the memory was firmly imprinted via a bit of shrieking at the time? Or are you not a vocal sort of gal? Haha. Those maxi dresses could scoop up all manner of wildlife! xx

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