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By Andrea Wild 11 April 2022 3 min read

The authors of Moths in the ACT[Link will open in a new window] collaborated with a team of citizen scientists to photograph Canberra’s moths. As a result, the book is illustrated with 1500 beautiful photos of moths taken mostly in nature.

This independent book is a guide to observing, identifying and also understanding Canberra’s moths. It’s also full of fascinating stories. Here are a few we discovered in its pages.

Biggest moth

You can spot the exit holes of wood moths like Endoxyla cinereus in Eucalypt trunks and branches. Image: Glenn Cocking. ©  Glenn Cocking

Canberra's heaviest moth is a species of wood moth called Endoxyla cinereus. Males have an average wingspan of 15 cm and females of 20 cm. But it’s not just the adult moths who fly. Newly hatched larvae spin a silk parachute line and float away from their brothers and sisters in the hope of landing on a food tree.

The larvae that land successfully live under the bark of eucalypts. They bore into the centre of the tree for protection and eat the soft tissue under the bark as it regrows inside their bore. It's almost a kind of farming.

Traces in the tree include a slight bulge under the bark and a small exit hole for frass (insect poo). When it’s time to pupate, the larva makes a larger exit hole in the tree for its adult form. It then seals off its bore with silk, sticky goo and wood shavings.

Endoxyla cinereus adults are nocturnal and common in Canberra, but rarely seen. You can spot them all over Australia, except in Tasmania.

Strangest moth

The Forester moth Pollanisus viridipulverulenta is widespread across southeastern Australia. Images: Bron King. ©  Bron King

Moth species in the family Zygaenidae (Forester moths) have a few curious qualities. They are active during the day, are brightly coloured and can produce cyanide.

Venoms are common in the insect world, which is filled with things that sting. In contrast, these moths are toxic when eaten. Their conspicuous colouring helps birds and animals to learn to avoid them. Instead of obtaining this toxin solely from their food plants, Zygaenids can create cyanide themselves. As a result, the larvae and adults can safely wear bright colours.

Most beautiful moth

Alucita phricodes's fan like wings. Image Katarina Christenson. ©  Katarina Christenson

In our eyes, the family Alucitidae (Many-plume moths) win this category. When resting, the four wings of these moths look like an open fan made of feathers. You can find the species Alucita phricodes in late winter and early spring. The larvae's favourite food are the garden plants wonga vine and bower vine.

The beautiful blue-green wings of Chlorocoma melocrossa. Image: Katarina Christenson. ©  CNM Katarina Christenson

In addition, we can't go past Chlorocoma melocrossa, for its gum-leaf-green wings and feathery antennae. Along with at least 250 other Canberra moth species, and 20,000 known species worldwide, it belongs to the family Geometridae (Geometrid moths). Inchworms are larvae of this family, named for their curious way of crawling. They stretch their bodies forward, then form a loop shape by bringing their rear close to their front legs.

Most beloved moth

Bogong moths spend summers in aestivation, which is a little like hibernation. ©  ANIC

Canberra’s bogong moths are famous in the city, where the moths gather in buildings during their summer migration.

This species, Agrotis infusa, is a medium-sized moth that feeds and breeds in southern Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. In the summer months these moths migrate in huge numbers to rest in the ACT’s cool rock shelters. Indigenous people used this time to gather the moths for food.

Moths in the ACT

Moths in the ACT is the only book of its kind in Australia. It was written by Glenn Cocking, Suzi Bond and Ted Edwards.

This book was supported by taxonomic work at our Australian National Insect Collection[Link will open in a new window], where we study the diversity and relationships of Australia’s insects.

Moths in the ACT includes expert identifications by the authors, biological information on most species, short introductions to each family and information on moths more generally. Learn how to observe the moth world, marvel at interesting facts about moths, read about life cycles and discover how to identify local moth species.

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