Sun-loving Moths and citrus plants
The biology of many Sun-loving Moths is inextricably linked to the biology of the citrus plants. Female moths lay their eggs into flowers, and when they hatch, caterpillars eat the developing seeds. Because the caterpillars are only able to eat seeds of one species of plant, their survival is absolutely dependent on the plant’s survival. In some cases, the relationship is even more intimate, with not just the plant providing the caterpillars’ food, but also the female moth contributing to pollinating the plant’s flowers. In a few cases the moths are the plant’s only pollinator. Conservation of moths and plants are therefore inextricably intertwined, and this becomes incredibly important when plants are range-restricted or endangered – as many are.
We have found that almost every Australian species of the citrus family (Rutaceae) we have looked at, from the top of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, to the desert around Kalgoorlie in Western Australia and to the tropical north of Kakadu in the Northern Territory, are associated with one, two and sometimes more species of Sun-loving Moths.
To date, despite only examining about 50 of the nearly 500 Australian citrus species, in genera like Boronia, Phebalium, Eriostemon and Zieria, we have discovered over one hundred new species of moths and are in the process of describing and naming them. We would like to look at every single species of Rutaceae and identify moths with which they are associated. And we are in a hurry, because an increasing number of these plants are endangered, meaning their Sun-loving Moths may go extinct before they are even known.
The only way to do this is with your help, and a great first step is by photographing moths on Rutaceae plants. Even without trying, new species of moths have been discovered and photographed incidentally by plant lovers who have posted their beautiful photos on social media platforms like Instagram. We can’t wait for chance sightings – we need a more deliberate and concerted effort.
How you can help!
- Search for Rutaceae (citrus plants) growing in your local area
- Look carefully at their flowers – from the time they are unopened buds through to after they drop seed – and if you see a moth, take a photograph
- If possible, please record: the GPS coordinates, time of day and date the photo was taken, plant ID, and stage of flowering (just include whatever information you can)
- Share your photos with the team, through:
- Instagram – Post your photos on your own Instagram account, include @sun.loving.moths in the post, and use the hashtags #sunlovingmoths #australiancitrus #rutaceae #heliozelidae
- Facebook – Share your photos on your own Facebook account and tag Sun Loving Moths
- Email – Email the team your photos – Sun.Loving.Moths@gmail.com
Even if you don’t hit the jackpot and find moths, photos and locations of plants are also valuable! We can then follow up your discoveries and search for them on our next field trip in that area. And if you don’t find a moth on your first look – don’t give up! In many cases moths may be present only for a few days or a week in a year and only on a few plants among a whole patch of similar plants – and that’s why a few people can never cover the whole country. That’s why we need people in every state and in every region. That’s why we need you!