This spring across the Darling Downs the Bogong moths with migrate up to a thousand kilometres to find a cool summer home in Australia's southern alps.
Early summer barbeques along the east coast of Australia wouldn't be the same without a visit from one of our most amazing insects. Bogong Moths, travel over 1000km each year from the black soil plains of Queensland and western NSW to the Australian Alps, seeking refuge from the summer heat.
Along the way, they travel by night and then in the morning, drop down to the ground to rest in the shade during the day.
Bogong moths have a wingspan of about 50mm, and can be recognised by their dark brown mottles and two light spots on each wing.
At night, the lights from towns, fires and other human activities attract the moths and they can become quite a nuisance. A Bogong moth even starred in the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when it perched on opera singer Yvonne Kenny during her performance.
Every year, migrating moths find their way into Canberra's Parliament House, squeezing through air-conditioning ducts and sometimes winding up in the Chamber itself. There's even the Bogong Moth Motel at Mt Beauty, near where the insects come to stay in the Southern Alps.
As the moths migrate southwards, their world collides with human society. Their route, followed for thousands of generations past, now passes over the bright lights of Canberra and other large cities. The lights fool the moths into behaving as if the sun is coming up. Their natural response is to dive down to the ground to find a dark place before the heat of the day sets in, and suddenly there are moths everywhere.
Buildings can become covered with a thick coating of moths, desperately seeking dark cracks and crevasses to hide from the sun. Their need to escape the heat has driven these moths to evolve one of the most amazing migration strategies of any Australian animal.
A festival to celebrate the arrival of the moths is still held today, near Albury at Mungabareena Reserve. Held on the last Saturday in November, the festival features Indigenous performers, spear and boomerang throwing competitions, bush tucker and indigenous kids activities. Up to 5000 people - both locals and overseas visitors - come to the festival each year.
At the end of summer, the moths must prepare for the long trip back to Queensland where they will mate, and then die. Many have not survived their stay in the mountains, or been eaten by predators. The few who flutter back home in February and March don't have anywhere near the visibility of the thick swarms which headed south in November.
Perhaps one in 1000 moths will make it all the way back home, feeding on nectar along the way to keep their energy up. As soon as they arrive back, seven months after crawling out of the ground, they mate and the female lays up to 2000 eggs. So begins the cycle once more.
*When: Bogong moths fly south from Queensland every spring to wait out the heat of summer in alpine caves. They return in autumn to Queensland to mate. The Ngan Girra Festival (formerly the Bogong Moth Festival) is held on the last Saturday in November, 2002.
*Where: Darling Downs, Queensland, and the Bogong Plains, Victoria ( near the town of Mt Beauty). The moth's breeding grounds stretch from inland southern Queensland and northern NSW right down to the Hay plains.
*Bogongs live only a year, but travel over 1500 km during this time.
*There is a carpet of dead moth bodies 1.5 metres thick on the floor of some Alpine caves, built up from thousands of generations.
*Canberra lies directly in the path of the migrating Bogongs and the bright lights create big problems for moth navigation.