Friday, May 26, 2017

May Speaker Report: Moths of Mt Kynoch by Don Gardner

I enjoyed my husband’s talk to the Toowoomba Field Nats very much. It was interesting to sit in the back row, and see how the other Nats responded to the same things I have been learning during the last four years, since Don took up his hobby of studying the moths on our one hectare Mt Kynoch property.
We were shown a selection of many of the more interesting ones. I could hear remarks all around, which showed that (like me) many of us were surprised to find just how beautiful and interesting they are. The variety of colours, shapes and patterns was quite astonishing. Sizes of the moths ranged from one with a wingspan of 16cm, to one 3mm long. Don has not studied the smaller moths, as this is the limit of his photographic equip-ment. He told lots of interesting stories about their various lifestyles, including those whose larvae live on leaf litter, or as leaf miners. There are even several species whose larvae are aquatic, and live for that phase of their lives in our pond.
Don talked of the difficulty of identifying the moths, and pointed out the identifying characteristics (labial palpae, hairy tufts and shiny patches on the wings, and so on) that he uses. He doesn’t use a microscope, dissect, or use DNA identification techniques, all of which are rather out of the range of the home enthusiast. However, even just using the external appearance as a guide, he has been able to identify over 400 species. He knows that there are many more, just on our patch of land, and that they increase with each new local native plant species that we put into our garden.
He has focussed on the moths which are attracted to the windows of the house, using easily available domestic lighting of several different colours, each of which attracts a slightly different set of moths. Window photo-graphy enables him to photograph them on both sides. (As his wife, I enjoy the fact that he is motivated to keep the windows clean!) Many of his moths have never before been photographed alive, in their natural positions.
Of Australia’s estimated 20-30,000 moths, only 1,200 have been named. (Compare this with Australia’s appro-ximately 416 butterflies, all of which are quite well known.) The problem is the lack of funding for this particular branch of science. The best-studied moths tend to be the pest species of economic importance. With my encouragement, Don has put many of his moths onto a blogsite
I feel it is such a pity that so many amateurs gain a great deal of knowledge on scientific subjects, which is then often lost. If it is put into the public domain it can assist the larger project of adding to the world’s knowledge.
A blog is an easy way to do this, and is free. Don’s has about 200 hits per week. Some are from local people who have found the same difficulty he has had in improving their own knowledge, and share their pleasure in finding a fellow local moth enthusiast. A surprising number of them are from overseas countries, where the moths would be relations of our Australian moths, though not the same.

Thank you, Don, for such an interesting and enjoyable talk. 
                                                            Trish Gardner

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