A critically endangered species of moth has been discovered in an urban area next to a rubbish tip in Wangaratta in Victoria’s north-east.
A resident, Will Ford, was walking his dogs one evening in December when he spotted a moth he didn’t recognise.
He snapped a photo and posted it on iNaturalist Australia, an online forum, where experts identified it as a rare golden sun moth.
“You don’t necessarily need to go out into the wilderness to find something really cool,” Ford said. “You can just be walking around an urban area and there might be native habitat where there’s species you can photograph and identity, which can help contribute to national understanding of management of species.”
An independent wildlife biologist, Ian Davidson, said he was astounded by the discovery.
“Luckily [Ford] took a photo – I wouldn’t have believed him,” he said. “It’s never been recorded here. I would have bet the house it wouldn’t have been there.”
Davidson, who is on the committee of Wangaratta Land Care and Sustainability, said the sighting was all the rarer considering these moths only live for one to four days, and generally only come out during the sunniest time of the day.
Ford contacted the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, which confirmed the identification on 21 January.
Davidson said the discovery showed “what environmental treasures there are within our urban area and it helps the community and councillors understand that they can’t develop without decent thought and planning”.
Because every population is isolated “like little islands” and the females are poor fliers – able to travel no more than 100 metres – “they can’t migrate, so you’ve got to protect what habitat there is”, Davidson said.
He highlighted the role of the native wallaby grass – a nondescript variety often overlooked as not having much environmental value. “This beautiful species is dependent on this bit of wallaby grass,” he said.
Ford has now joined Wangaratta Land Care and Sustainability and said the group was hoping to work with Wangaratta council to preserve the moth’s habitat.
“There’s been a lot of development in the vicinity we found the moth,” he said. “[There’s] local concern that this habitat area is shrinking further. We hope the council steps up and takes this discovery seriously and dedicates resources to managing that area appropriately.”
Davidson said: “This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be development, it should just be wise and thoughtful. Council’s stated aim is liveability and a key part of that liveability is including nature and maintaining natural areas with development around it.
“Findings like this help get the message out to the community of what we have and that it’s worth protecting.”