Rare endangered moth spotted on the Gold Coast for only the fourth time

28 March 2018

One of South East Queensland’s rarest critters, the endangered Pink Underwing Moth, has been spotted in the Gold Coast region for only the fourth confirmed time.

A small population of the large moth's larvae, mostly found in sub-tropical rainforest in South East Queensland and Northern NSW, was spotted by local fauna experts on private property in the Upper Numinbah Valley on March 13.

The rare find has sent a ripple of excitement through the Gold Coast ecological community and is the fourth confirmed sighting of the moth in the Gold Coast region since the species was first identified in 1973.

The Pink Underwing Moth is well-known for its colourful pink wing spots, large 14cm wingspan and - when maturing larvae - its distinctive markings to ward off predators, which resemble a set of teeth between spots that look like eyes with large pupils.

The species is normally found below the altitude of 600m in undisturbed, subtropical rainforest and survives on the carronia vine, a collapsed shrub that provides the food and habitat the moth requires to breed.

According to City of Gold Coast records, the Pink Underwing Moth had previously only been spotted twice at Currumbin Valley and once in the Numinbah region.

That was until Gold Coast fauna expert and wildlife photographer Isaac Wishart spotted a population of the large moth's larvae during a visit to an Upper Numinbah Valley property in early March.

Mr Wishart was unable to capture any photos of the population that night but returned two weeks later alongside Healthy Land and Water Southern Area Manager Paul Donatiu and two other experts to confirm the moth’s presence.

After a quick search in the misty surrounds of the rainforest, the team spotted three larvae perched on a carronia vine and managed to finally snap some stunning pictures.

Mr Donatiu said the discovery was an important milestone for the Gold Coast ecological community.

“The Pink Underwing Moth is quite large but it’s very elusive and very hard to photograph, so to be able to see it in person and get some photos was fantastic. It was an ethereal experience,” he said.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to has been really rapt to hear about it. It’s a really special find and certainly one of the rarest critters in South East Queensland.”

The discovery came about somewhat by chance after Healthy Land and Water committed to conducting several ecological surveys on properties as part of its Upper Cave Creek Restoration Project in the Numinbah Valley.

The project aims to remove the devils fig weed and lantana from 125 hectares of endangered lowland subtropical rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest in the Upper Cave Creek Catchment.

Mr Donatiu said the discovery of the moth population was a wonderful bonus to come from the restoration project.

“We committed to the ecological surveys to build up the landholder’s interest in their land, so the find is one of the great outcomes to come from that effort.”

The Pink Underwing Moth is listed as endangered under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, mainly due to habitat loss and disturbance, weed invasion and the threat posed by artificial light, which attracts adult moths away from their natural habitats. 

For more information on the moth visit the Pink Underwing Moth's dedicated page on the Australian Government Department of Environment website. 

Image by Isaac Wishart.