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How Toxic Is Traditional Bush Tucker in the Alps?

moths with popcorn

Popcorn with Bogong moths (pop-moth) is hardly a “traditional” bush tucker recipe, but is it contaminated with arsenic?

By Susan Lawler & Pettina Love

Bogong moths are not only traditional bush tucker for indigenous people, but they are also important food for many alpine species. But does the discovery that they contain elevated levels of arsenic pose any real dangers to indigenous people or the high country ecosystem?

Susan Lawler is Head of the Department of Environmental Management and Ecology at La Trobe University’s Wodonga campus, and supervised PhD student Pettina Love, a member of the Bundjalung Nation, in this research.

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Bogong moths are best known for the problems they cause when they arrive in our cities in large numbers. They interrupted the Sydney Olympics and attacked Parliament House during a visit by former US President, George Bush. These incidents occur because the moths migrate in large numbers at certain times of the year and are attracted to lights. Any well-lit building in the path of their migration will become inundated with moths for several days.

Where do the moths come from, and where are they going? Bogong moths lay their eggs in soil in the lowlands of eastern Australia, from Queensland to South Australia. They prefer the dark, self-mulching soils that are also used for agriculture. This means that Bogong moths are pests as soon as they hatch because the larval form feeds on the roots of plants, some of which are our crops. At this stage they are known to farmers as cutworms.

The larvae form a cocoon under the soil and undergo another transformation into the adult moth. The adults hatch in the spring and soon afterward begin their long migration, during which they fly to the mountains in Victoria and New South Wales. The moths are heading for the highest part of the Australian alps, where they push into crevices between the rocks above the tree line. The Bogong moths then spend the summer hiding among the boulder fields in the mountains. On warm nights, at...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.