Ecolink helps to protect the future of a poo-eating moth

The recent update to the threatened species listed of the EPBC Act includes a moth from far north Queensland that was nominated by Ecolink for protection as an Endangered species.

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The Antbed Moth Trisyntopa scatophaga

As part of his PhD into the ecological interactions of the Hooded Parrot, Stuart described a new species of moth that lived in the nests of the parrot.  This moth, now named Trisyntopa neossophilla, spends its life as larvae in the bottom the parrot’s nest, after the adult moths lay eggs in the wall of the termite mound that provides the nest for the parrot (see video below).  Once the larvae emerge, they form a protective web beneath the chicks and eat the parrot chick’s waste, keeping the nest clean.  Stuart experimentally demonstrated that the moths kept the baby parrots cleaner and the nests less likely to be infested by flies.

The sister taxon to the Hooded Parrot is the Golden-shouldered Parrot.  Unlike the Hooded Parrot, the Golden-shouldered Parrot is Endangered and restricted to a couple of pockets of tropical savannah in far north Queensland, around the Morehead River, including the famous Artemis Station, and Staaten River National Park.  Like the Hooded Parrot, however, the Golden-shouldered Parrot also nests with a moth, Trisyntopa scatophaga¸ that behaves in a very similar way to the Hooded Parrot Moth.  Whilst the Golden-shouldered Parrot is listed on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) as Endangered, the moth had, until now been overlooked.

In 2009, Stuart and his collaborators completed nomination forms for the listing of the Antbed Moth (both the parrots nest in active termite mounts, hence Antbed).  The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly and little happened for a long time.  However in December 2016 we finally received news that the Minister for the Environment had accepted the nomination and that the Antbed Parrot would be protected as an Endangered species under the EPBC Act, the same as its avian bed-fellow.  This is good news for the parrot and the moth that keeps the parrot’s nests clean and is likely to improve breeding success of this threatened species.

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A Hooded Parrot at its termite mound nest.  Hooded Parrots are the sister taxon of the Golden-shouldered Parrot and led to the discovery of the relationship between the parrot and the Antbed Moth