Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

FNZ 14 - Lepidoptera - annotated catalogue and keys to family group taxa - Historical Notes

Dugdale, JS 1988. Lepidoptera - annotated catalogue, and keys to family-group taxa. Fauna of New Zealand 14, 264 pages.
( ISSN 0111-5383 (print), ; no. 14. ISBN 0-477-02518-8 (print), ). Published 23 Sep 1988

Historical Notes

The first New Zealand Lepidoptera brought to Europe were two nymphalid butterflies collected by Banks and his assistants during Cook's first voyage, and were described by Fabricius in 1775. Their capture did not excite Banks (Gibbs 1980b, p. 110). A copper butterfly obtained by Drury - probably from a member of one of Cook's later voyages (Gibbs 1980b, p. 141) - and also described by Fabricius was the third. Drury thought it was from India. All three were depicted precisely by Jones in his "Icones; Papiliones Nymphales ..." of 1785; only the nymphalid specimens, the yellow and red admiral respectively, are known to survive. The copper butterfly may be in the MacLeay Museum, Sydney (Andrews 1986, p. 41).

Entomological collections made during the voyage of Dumont D'Urville were described by Boisduval (1832). One New Zealand moth - the magpie moth - was described (as from Papua New Guinea) and depicted.

None of the voyages yielded nocturnal species, either of Lepidoptera or of Coleoptera (e.g., Prionoplus). Can we presume that the collectors spent each night aboard, and that the ship's lights were not bright enough to attract moths or large beetles from the shore?

With land-based exploration and the beginnings of settlement came an increase in specimens. Yet by 1844 only four Lepidoptera collections had reached Britain: a puriri moth collected by J.G. Children (stated to be from "Van Diemens Land"); two small collections presented by Captain W. Parry and by J. Clarke Ross of the Antarctic Expedition, described by Edward Doubleday; and specimens collected by the Rev. Richard Taylor.

The earliest account of New Zealand Lepidoptera natural history is that of Taylor (1843). He included much information provided by his Māori companions, and recorded the presence (and Māori names) of adults of the then hostless monarch butterfly and moon moth. The respective hosts, asclepiads and wattles, were introduced by Europeans. The period 1845-1880 saw increasing collecting by resident natural historians such as Percy Earl (Wellington and coastal Otago), Lt Col. D. Bolton, Dr Andrew Sinclair (Auckland), R.W. Fereday, J.D. Enys (Canterbury, Hawkes Bay), Thomas Oxley (Nelson), Dr J. Hector and, later, Prof. F.W. Hutton (Otago), William Colenso (Hawkes Bay Taupo), and the Rev. J.F. Churton (Wellington briefly, then Auckland). There were also visitors who collected, such as Dr F. Knaggs. Contact with London was strong; Oxley, Fereday, Enys, and Hector all knew F. Walker or A.G. Butler at the British Museum in Russell Square. The Imperial Austrian frigate 'Novara' visited New Zealand on expedition, but relied largely on local collectors (Sinclair in Auckland, Oxley in Nelson), although the geologist Ferdinand Hochstetter also provided some entomological specimens.

Most specimens from New Zealand were presented or sold to the British Museum (as befitted Britons in a British colony). The earlier material was described by Francis Walker and the later by A.G. Butler. Some of Fereday's early material was described by Achille Guenée in Paris, where some types remain; others are now in BMNH. The most extensive collections were those of Lt-Col. D. Bolton around Auckland and T.R. Oxley around Nelson, providing the bulk of the species described from New Zealand by Walker.

Lt-Colonel D. Bolton commanded the Royal Engineers in Auckland between March 1850 and November 1853. He had previously toured New Zealand with Governor Grey in 1847, and was then stationed in Wellington during 1848 - 1850. As his collection does not include Wiseana cervinata Walker, and many of his specimens (Lepidoptera and cicadas) show characters distinctive of Auckland populations, it is likely that Bolton made his collection during his term in Auckland. He had two houses, an official one at Onehunga and another in Emily Place, at the foot of Symonds Street. He was briefly on the executive council of New Ulster (one of three provinces of New Zealand, a system abandoned in 1852). One species he collected - Stigmella maoriella (Walker) - has not been found since. Bolton embarked for England via Sydney in November 1853, and his collection reached the British Museum early in 1854, hence the museum accession number "54.4". He later died in South Africa (Auckland Institute and Museum Library records; Sir Charles Fleming, pers. comm.).

T.R. Oxley, a professional photographer from London, was our first extensive resident collector. He had previously collected in Victoria (Australia), returning in 1855 to London, where he was befriended by Henry Stainton, the leading British microlepidopterist. Oxley then went to Nelson and made three collections: one he despatched to Walker (mislabelled at BMNH as from Auckland), one to Stainton, and - by arrangement - one to Dr Felder, as part of the 'Novara' Expedition results. Oxley's specimens to Felder are illustrated in the 'Lepidoptera' section of the 'Novara' results (Felder & Rogenhofer 1875). Oxley later became, in turn, a brewer and an Inspector of Nuisances; he died at Nelson in 1887 (M. Watson, pers. comm.).

Late in 1879 Edward Meyrick came to New Zealand as a classics master at Cathedral Grammar School, Christchurch. Over the next seven years he divided his time between New Zealand and Australia, where he taught at the King's School, Parramatta, Sydney, building up a large collection - mainly of "Microlepidoptera" - from each country. Home leave on two occasions during this period allowed him to check his captures with the specimens described by Walker and Butler. For each of those species that his friend Fereday had got Guenée to describe, Meyrick was able to examine "an exactly similar one" (Meyrick 1884b, p. 50).

Meyrick travelled extensively, and recorded his daily captures in a diary (now in the BMNH, microlepidoptera floor). He was in contact particularly with Fereday, Enys, and Hutton, and towards the end of his stay with G.V. Hudson. By 1887-1890 Meyrick had revised virtually all families in New Zealand, except for Rhopalocera. Also by this time he was publishing extensively on microlepidoptera from Australia and the central Pacific. The fauna of the latter area - to which he was introduced by G.F. Mathew, a naval officer based at Sydney and in Fiji - particularly excited him, and in subsequent papers he remarked on the disjunct relationships between New Zealand and some Pacific islands, a topic of great interest today.

Meyrick gathered together the scattered descriptions of previous workers, and put the classification of Lepidoptera in New Zealand on a relatively sound footing. Only Felder & Rogenhofer's and two of Butler's contributions were illustrated; Meyrick did not illustrate any of his New Zealand works, but the meeting with Hudson over a weekend in January 1886 in Wellington laid the foundations for Hudson's massive contribution. New Zealand and, to a certain extent, Australia were the only places for which Meyrick maintained an interest in macrolepidoptera.

After Meyrick's departure for England, G.V. Hudson, A. Philpott, G. Howes, C.C. Fenwick, and later C.E. Clarke and M.O. Pasco amassed large collections, and these have stayed in New Zealand. Also there was extensive entomological exploration, from the subantarctic islands (1909) to the Kermadec Islands (1908), and general overviews of the fauna were produced. All this was done by resident amateurs. During the late 1920s Alfred Philpott became - at his own request - the honorary lepidopterist at the Cawthron Institute, where previously he had drawn a salary (Tillyard 1931, p. 173).

The first overview of our Lepidoptera, a synoptic catalogue, was compiled by Fereday (1898). It is marred by typographical errors, but formed the basis (unacknowledged) for F.W. Hutton's "Index Faunae Novae-Zealandiae" in 1904. Fereday's list was based on Meyrick's advice. Fereday's catalogue was largely overshadowed by G.V. Hudson's first monograph, on the macrolepidoptera (Hudson 1898). It too was based on Meyrick's advice and guidance.

By 1900 Hudson was in regular correspondence with Meyrick, sending numbered specimens and a ledger sheet; Meyrick kept the specimens and returned the ledger sheets with names beside the relevant numbers. Hudson also guided Meyrick's papers through the New Zealand Institute's Transactions. The other lepidopterists resident in New Zealand also sent material to Meyrick for identification or description. Only S. Lindsay (at the Canterbury Museum) had the types of new species based on that material returned, labelled as such.

Over the period 1900-1938, Meyrick ruled the roost. His view of what was or was not a species was promulgated by Hudson in his 1928 and 1939 books, and was largely accepted. Meyrick had seen the Doubleday, Walker, Butler, and now the Felder types in the BMNH (and may have had scant regard for types anyway, as suggested by Clarke 1956, p. 9). We had no option but to interpret the New Zealand Lepidoptera by Meyrick's and Hudson's concepts, which in New Zealand were based on Hudson's collection.

Nevertheless, there was some independent thought. G. Howes in Dunedin described several noctuid and geometrid species, and L.B. Prout and G.B. Longstaff (at BMNH) were revising Meyrickian concepts in macrolepidoptera.

The period 1920-1930 is characterised by the significant pioneering efforts of Alfred Philpott, who studied the structure of many moth families. He examined mouthparts, thoracic and leg structures, and genitalia in detail. His work on Hepialidae, Mnesarchaeidae, and Micropterigidae was detailed to a degree well beyond contemporary work in Europe and North America. Philpott also pioneered the representative world collection while he was with the Cawthron Institute, exchanging with A.J. Turner in Australia, E. Hering in France, F. Schaus in Costa Rica, and A.S. Packard, A. Busck, and J.R. Eyer in the United States. One result is the extensive exotic collections now in NZAC. Another notable pioneer was M.N. Watt, in Wanganui, whose illustrations and descriptions of Nepticulidae and Gracillariidae (in the 1920s) are equal to present-day standards. He continued to study leaf-miners when he moved to Dunedin, and his extensive collections are now at NMNZ.

By the time of Hudson's death, in 1946, there were three extensive collections of New Zealand Lepidoptera in the country: Hudson's (at the then Dominion Museum, Wellington), Philpott's (at the joint Cawthron Institute / Entomology Division, DSIR Entomological Research Station at Nelson), and Clarke's (at the Auckland Museum). There were also four local collections - M.O. Pasco's from Queenstown (at Invercargill), C.C. Fenwick's at the Dominion Museum, G. Howes's (split between the Auckland Museum and Dominion Museum), and S. Lindsay's (at the Canterbury Museum). Luckily, most of Fereday's collection was also preserved in the Canterbury Museum. All seven collections include types.

The period 1950 to the present day is still characterised by a high degree of amateur participation. J.T. Salmon, at first the lone professional, set out after Hudson's death to augment the Dominion Museum's holdings separate from the Hudson Collection, and described the exciting Three Kings Islands fauna, but after 1956 his interests turned largely to Collembola. Amateurs and others started to concentrate on local and national collecting, and comprehensive collections were amassed by the Forest Biology Survey of the Forest Research Institute at Rotorua, T.H. Davies (Hawkes Bay), K.J. Fox (Taranaki), C.J. Green (Auckland area), N. Hudson (South Auckland - Bay of Plenty), C. Muir (Riccarton Bush, Christchurch), and B. Patrick (Otago - Southland). Some have concentrated on a group, e.g., Noctuidae (Fox), Geometridae, Psychidae, Tortricidae (Patrick), or on an ecological entity, e.g., migrant Lepidoptera (Fox).

Professional lepidopterists have dealt either with taxonomic problems (K.A.J. Wise) or with groups of systematic or economic importance (L.J. Dumbleton - Agathiphagidae, Hepialidae; J.S. Dugdale - Tortricidae, forest Geometridae; D.E. Gaskin - Crambidae; G.W. Gibbs - Micropterigidae, Mnesarchaeidae, Rhopalocera). Island faunas have been investigated by Salmon and Bradley, and later by Dugdale (subantarctic islands) and Wise (White Island, and others). The influence of Philpott is reflected in the work of Gibbs, Dumbleton, and Dugdale on the Micropterigidae, Mnesarchaeidae, Hepialidae, Tortricidae, and female genital systems.

Lately the Nepticulidae have been worked on by a group at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, with local help, as a contribution to the Fauna of New Zealand series (Donner & Wilkinson, in press [Update: This document is now available as Fauna vol. 16].)This may be a forerunner of other such 'off'-shore' revisions, based on the extensive collections at NZAC, AMNZ, NMNZ, CMNZ, and FRNZ; and the large, privately held collections of B. Patrick (Dunedin) and the late K.J. Fox (Manaia, Taranaki).

The above account briefly acknowledges the better known names. There were many others: Ambrose Quail, who first worked on the life history of the puriri moth and variation in the tortricid Epalxiphora; A.V. Chappell, who described eggs and life histories of several species; A. Purdie, who started a study of host-plant moth associations now in urgent need of revival; W.L. Buller, who described a now unrecognised hepialid; and many collectors such as R.M. Sunley, who assisted Hudson; W. Smith, who accompanied Howes to Fiordland; the painfully shy W. Heighway, who assisted Philpott and Lindsay; A. Hamilton, who sent his father "novelties" from beyond Lake Wakatipu; F.S. Oliver and Averil Lysaght, whose collections have largely disappeared.

All have contributed, and, creditably, nearly all the early material is still preserved. That which has been unwittingly destroyed or allowed to disintegrate comes from areas where re-collection is possible. The fine, careful, continuous collecting at a local level now being practised is showing up the presence of many more species than were hitherto expected. Such collecting, often involving elucidation of host-plant associations and periodicity, is a field very much open to amateurs. Where such work can be tied in with electrophoretic or pheromonal studies, then Lepidoptera systematics in New Zealand is even more exciting.

Purchase this publication