Saving moths to save the mountain pygmy-possum

What has saving bogong moths got to do with saving mountain pygmy possums? We’re glad you asked.

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to spend time with Dean Heinz, who at the time was a PhD candidate at La Trobe University. We spend about a week in the scree piles of Hotham and Buller, where we set box traps for local wildlife. Our target was the Burramys parvus , better known as the Mountain Pygmy Possum.

We trapped dozens of possums, before taking their weight and measuring their length. Dean was one of very few researchers at the time studying their ecology and he was deeply concerned about their well being, especially in the face of climate change and a diminishing food source.

21 years later, its reassuring to hear that people are still looking out for mountain pygmy possums, ironically, by looking after something far less charismatic – the bogong moth.

When bogong moths were plentiful. Image: Dean Heinz

In a heart-warming campaign, Zoos Victoria in collaboration with Mt Buller is launching a campaign, ‘Dim the lights’, which seeks to help more moths – one of the main food sources of Mountain Pygmy Possums – make the journey to the mountains by reducing light pollution on their migration path from Queensland down to the Alpine Regions.

After a long hibernation the possums usually weigh in at just 35 grams and need to quickly double their weight over the summer so they can store fat in readiness for the next winter.  Bogong moths are their perfect food source providing a power-house of fat and nutrients but the numbers of moths in the alpine areas has plummeted from 4.4 billion to only a few hundred last year according to Dr Marissa Parrott at Zoos Victoria.

The Mt Buller community is embracing the ‘Dim the lights’ program by turning off non-essential lights and covering outside lights with a cellophane film to reduce the attraction for the Bogong Moths.  The intent is to direct more moths to the boulder fields and rocky crevices beneeath the resort’s southern ski runs where the Mountain Pygmy-Possums will soon be waking up ready to feed.  Locals and visitors wishing to cover their outside lights can collect the film from Guest Services in the Clocktower in the Mt Buller Village.

Zoos Victoria are asking everyone to use the Moth Tracker website – https://www.swifft.net.au/mothtracker/ – to log sightings as the Bogong Moths fly south.  This tool will help the scientific community analyse the moth migration this spring assessing numbers and monitoring their flight path.

Lou Perrin, Environment Manager for Mt Buller and Mt Stirling explains, ‘We urge locals and visitors to use the newly released tracker tool on their phone so it’s easy to snap a picture of the moths and check they are Bogongs.  We can all be part of this simple yet powerful citizen science project and gather data to help our fragile Mountain Pygmy-Possum population.  As the snow melts Mt Buller’s Mountain Pygmy-Possum population will be waking up hungry and we want to do all we can to ensure they have Bogong Moths to fill their bellies.’ 

Mt Buller’s lovable resort mascot “Barry Possum” will be sharing the message about the ‘Dim the Lights” campaign at Mt Buller this month so look out for him in the Village and on the slopes during the final weeks of the snow season (skiing continues until 6 October).

Bogong moths are just 1-2 cms long and pictures to help identify them are available on the Moth Tracker site. 

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