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Byron Shire
January 23, 2022

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Failing our Moth Test

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Once, when I was on stage, a large moth flew up my skirt… of course it’s a bogong.

Once, when I was on stage, a large moth flew up my skirt. Everyone in the front row saw it. It was very funny. And embarrassing. I quipped, ‘At least it’s not flying out. Then I tagged it with ‘– of course it’s a bogong’. Everyone laughed because it sounds like ‘bogan’. I kind of always thought of the moth as a bogan; loud, out on the street, bumping into things. They’re nothing fancy. They’re a plain old moth. If a bogong wore a shirt it would be a flannie. It would be smoking a ciggie and drinking VB. It would tell you to ‘get fucked’ but more as a greeting than an insult.

Bogong moths were common when I was growing up. They were everywhere. When I was a kid, every summer there would be about a hundred hitting the porch light. Big clumps of them would pile up around the street lamps like a brown powdery winged sea. I was always pulling them out of my hair, or capturing them in one of those plastic bug catchers so I could frighten my friends who had moth phobia; Mottephobia to be exact. You know, back in the times when it was acceptable to taunt friends with insect anxiety…

But now they’ve been added to the global red list of threatened species! Bogong numbers have declined by 99.5 per cent making them one of 123 new entries of Australian wildlife on the endangered species list. While the Mottephobes are probably breathing a sigh of relief, the rest of us should be very worried. Bogongs are the canary in the coalmine, the moth in the methane.

Thanks to drought and land clearing their numbers have dropped from four billion to maybe a couple of million. Climate change has claimed the Bogong. I would have thought that tough old moth would have hung in there. I guess it shows how vulnerable our ecosystems are to human impacts and how connected everything on this living planet is. You can’t have years of drought followed by fire followed by clearing of what habitat remains, without devastating affects on many other species. Oh, and then add some persistent harmful farming practices like using pesticides and we really are the cane toad of this country.

You don’t take out a species like the bogong without impacting the food chain. The moth is an important food source for many birds and for the pygmy possum. They have been found starving, many dead with young in their pouch. Another result of our failure to act, our failure to recognise the real impacts of climate change. It’s still a concept that we argue about, with some convinced it’s a conspiracy, and governments convinced it’s something we can negotiate our way around without the need for any proper action. But the bogong is well on the way to gone and I doubt a 30 per cent or 43 per cent emission target by 2030 will do much to save this species. It’s sad. They’re really an extraordinary creature. A food source too for Aboriginal communities in South East Australia, who would roast moths or make moth-meat cakes. Apparently they taste a bit like walnuts. But walnuts with wings.

The bogong moth can travel up to 965 kilometres on their migration journey. They do it nocturnally and somehow manage to arrive at their destination without GPS. It’s thought they may use a combination of an internal magnetic compass aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field, and recognisable landmarks, to navigate their route. Pretty extraordinary for something that was only recently a pupae.

The bogong is at risk. We need to stop using insecticides, stop land clearing, stop pumping out emissions. You don’t need to do the maths to know we need our moths. Another huge climate fail.

I want to see people get passionate about climate. Maybe we could become the champions for particular species? Bring on bogans for bogongs. 

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  1. I am a big fan of Brian Cox. But in a recent documentary, he opined that humans are nature’s most divine creation. For myself, if Nature had the time over again, it might well have “thought twice” – why create something that is now hell bent on destroying Nature and our own environment. There will be some who do care about the extinction of animal species, but the “we”, being humans generally, care little for the damage we do to the planet. “We” demand climate change action from governments and business – and then get in a 2.5 tonne dual cab to drive to the office, or a 2.5 tonne SUV to pick up milk from the shops – our little status symbols and our measure of our own importance, affluence and success despite the immense damage and emissions caused by the aggregation of the 200 million SUV’s and dual cabs on global roads – and on average, they are getting bigger, and heavier, with bigger engines . And heaven help any government with the balls and the brains to take on that issue head on. This is a big example true, but it is only one example of how “we” elevate ourselves and our neurotic needs above Nature.

    • the real problem is over-population, in the 1920’s there was 1.8 billion people, we now have close to 8 billion… in terms of dual-cab utes, the shortage of the diesel exhaust additive AdBlue, will set the cats amongst the pigeons. could even see a surge in electric vehicles!

  2. ‘ “We’ll all be rooned!” said Hanrahan’ (1921) and after all these years Hanrahan’s sure got it right.

    Ironically my auto correct changed “rooned” to “rooted” – AI at its finest!

  3. Ill FARES THE LAND above …said it all , we are such a human centric species . Sadly we can never even leave some ‘limited’ land (habitat) that we have stolen from wildlife??? We can not even share what we have stolen. We don’t deserve this beautiful planet & this is precisely why astronomers & others are looking at other planets ( to fook up). We also watch Brian Cox on ABC and felt the same, he is brilliant BUT has a weird /irrational mindset that somehow people (with their science) are gonna save Earth ?? WTF look around, we are a narcissistic dangerous bunch of primates Mr Cox. I can’t see our species becoming ecologically literate any time soon. People have become so very disconnected from nature , they rarely look outside their own immediate families to see the bigger picture. The planet doesn’t need us Hello ! But we sure as Hell need a healthy vibrant planet. OUR SPECIES ISN’T GONNA CHANGE IT’S EVIL WAYS LETS FACE IT…I despair ……signed activist radicalised /wildlife carer of 15 yrs 🙁

    • Personally I cycle between hope and despair…but hey, if Dave (Attenborough) could change his worldview and become an eco-warrior, then maybe young Brian can too…

    • Nature is perfect but humans aren’t. It’s a strange ideology I think – to use your qualities as a human to care so much about another species, and yet be so damning of your own. Sounds like catholicism wrapped up in green.


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