New Zealand’s na­tive moths each have their own eco­log­i­cal niche and their own job to do here in Aotearoa.

NZ Gardener - - Herbs -

it’s been a weird win­ter. Our City of Snails has seen some rain and the Gar­den City went through a de­press­ingly foggy June, fol­lowed by the warm­est July on record. Our lawns never stopped grow­ing and weeds were ger­mi­nat­ing con­stantly. The cra­zi­est as­pects of our south­ern “win­ter” was the abun­dance and ac­tiv­ity of all sorts of in­ver­te­brates, crea­tures that would nor­mally be fast asleep un­der a rock: heaps of grass grubs, Alexan­der bee­tles and cen­tipedes. But the most telling symp­tom of our warm win­ter was the reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance of moths on the out­side lights.

I love moths; al­ways have and al­ways will be a lep­i­dopter­ist.

As a stu­dent at var­sity in the Nether­lands, I’d load up my 50cc moped with a gen­er­a­tor-pow­ered light trap to col­lect moths in the Na­tional Park, just to see what’s out there. And this fas­ci­na­tion never left me – I’ll al­ways hun­ker down with my col­leagues at BioBl­itzes in New Zealand, around a light trap in a for­est, a wet­land or a tus­sock habi­tat.

Moths are at­tracted to bright lights, es­pe­cially in the blue-ish spec­trum. Their eyes are es­pe­cially sen­si­tive to the UV com­po­nent of lights – I sup­pose it’s the way they nav­i­gate by the light of the moon.

When we put on a bright blue light, their sys­tem gets con­fused and the moths will fly in ever-de­creas­ing cir­cles to­wards this ar­ti­fi­cial light source, only to crash next to it on the white sheet, spread on the ground.

The fas­ci­nat­ing thing is that we have so many dif­fer­ent species of moth in all sorts of im­pres­sive colours and pat­terns. See­ing this di­ver­sity at night is open­ing our eyes to all those dif­fer­ent life­forms, na­tive to New Zealand, each with their own eco­log­i­cal niche and each with their own job to do in Aotearoa.

When peo­ple think “moth”, they im­me­di­ately as­so­ciate that with small, scaly-winged crea­tures that fly into our hair at night, or the in­sects that eat our woollen clothes. For your in­for­ma­tion and to al­lay your fears, clothes moths are pretty rare in New Zealand – car­pet bee­tle lar­vae would be your main cul­prit!

An­other fre­quently held be­lief is that our moths are drab, bor­ing and mostly brown. “And they look pretty un­in­ter­est­ing too,” ac­cord­ing to my dear­est… Sad stuff. There are heaps of bril­liant and im­pres­sive moths in our coun­try, our forests and even our gar­dens. The p¯uriri moth (North Is­land only) is one of them: big, bright green with a life cy­cle story to match, plus a sta­ple food for more­porks!

Slightly smaller but even more im­pres­sive are the p¯uareare and the ai­huka. Google these names and you’ll not only find their Latin names, but also re­alise that you have just en­tered the fab­u­lous world of Ahi Pepe (MothNet). Imag­ine a group of kids of Te Kura Kau­papa M¯aori o Otepoti¯ creat­ing their own ed­u­ca­tional re­sources on the na­tive and en­demic moths of New Zealand, com­plete with their sto­ries, the ecosys­tem ser­vices and life cy­cles. The col­lab­o­ra­tive group is based in tepoti (Dunedin) and has com­pleted a guide to the Otago macro moths with the help of Ahi Pepe MothNet sci­en­tist Bar­bara An­der­son and lep­i­dopter­ist ex­traor­di­naire Robert Hoare (Manaaki Whenua Land­care Re­search). Fund­ing largely came from Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment’s Un­lock­ing Cu­ri­ous Minds and the Bi­o­log­i­cal Her­itage Na­tional Science Chal­lenge. But they didn’t stop there. Now we have guides to the macro moths for all re­gions of New Zealand in English and Te Reo. They even mod­i­fied and pro­duced por­ta­ble Heath light traps.

The rich sto­ries of these species and their habits are be­com­ing part of the cur­ricu­lum. Of course, this is all about en­gag­ing teach­ers, stu­dents and wh¯anau with the world of moths. You can find them on Face­ MothNetNZ.

My all-time favourite, the South Is­land lichen moth (ai­huka) is the adult stage of the five-fin­ger (Pseu­dopanax) looper cater­pil­lar. You can find a pic­ture of it on a $100 bill.

Ai­huka means “frost” in K¯ai Tahu. The snowy-white over choco­late brown of ai­huka’s wing pat­tern is rem­i­nis­cent of the south­ern frosts over the rich, deep soils of the South­land plains.

It’s been a weird win­ter, but I can’t wait for ai­huka to fly again in the warmer months of the year.

Xyri­dacma alec­toraria. De­clana egre­gia.

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