Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

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

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


With over 1760 species the order Lepidoptera is the third largest in New Zealand, after Coleoptera (c. 5000) and Diptera (2000+). Lepidoptera occupy all biotopes except caves in New Zealand; there are species living in the rocky coast spray zone, and even in the nival zone - an undescribed geometrid is known from the Cheval Ridge, Malte Brun Range, at 3000 m, 700 m altitude above the summer snowline. Some are ubiquitous (e.g., Orocrambus flexuosellus Doubleday), and others are very restricted (e.g., "Tortrix" antichroa Meyrick, only on Mt Taranaki). Some are so rarely encountered as to raise the question of extinction (e.g., the large Titanomis sisyrota Meyrick). Some have become extinct locally - e.g., Aoraia dinodes (Meyrick) at Invercargill, and Hydriomena arida (Butler) at Dunedin (B. Patrick, pers. comm.).

Lepidoptera in New Zealand commanded the attention of early naturalists, whether Māori or European. There are specific Māori terms for several species; and European culture has imposed yet another, more comprehensive system.

The New Zealand Lepidoptera fauna stands out on three counts: (a) the high level of endemicity; (b) the distinctive nature of many forms in relation to those in Australia; (c) the strange absences. It is a workable-sized fauna, even if some elements are enigmatic, and this publication, I hope, will give essential nomenclatural information about this important and in many ways elegant group, and summarise its classification.

Since G.V. Hudson published his monumental "Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand" (1928) and its "Supplement" (1939) there has been no comprehensive catalogue of New Zealand Lepidoptera. At all taxonomic levels, Lepidoptera classification has changed greatly in the intervening years, and requirements for distinguishing and describing new species and higher taxa have become more scientifically rigorous and time-consuming. After 1950 (the year Dr J.T. Salmon published Hudson's posthumous "Fragments of Entomology") new species have been recognised, classification of the Lepidoptera as a whole has been radically altered, and additional exotic species have either established themselves or are now known to arrive in New Zealand with great regularity.

The greatest stumbling block in the way of taxonomic work by New Zealanders on New Zealand Lepidoptera is the fact that, for the 2150 names proposed for species found in New Zealand, 1569 or 73% of the type specimens are in Northern Hemisphere institutions. The British Museum (Natural History) alone houses some 1460, or 68%, which were not readily accessible to workers in New Zealand. Earlier New Zealand workers had to take Meyrick's and Hudson's concepts on trust; or, after Hudson's death, have the types examined for them (e.g., Dumbleton 1966, Gaskin 1971, 1975), an arrangement conducive to error and confusion (Dugdale 1986).

This catalogue is an attempt at solving three problems:

  1. how to relate the classification changes to Hudson's illustrated monographs;
  2. how to present the relevant information concerning each type specimen (the specimen(s) on which the author of a name based the original description of that species);
  3. how to identify a specimen to one of the higher taxonomic categories in the catalogue, so that the identifier has a fighting chance of recognising it in 'Hudson'.

The catalogue therefore has four functions:

  • to place New Zealand's Lepidoptera in currently accepted classifications, and to cross-reference the species to Hudson's illustrated monographs, i.e., his works of 1898, 1928, 1939, and 1950;
  • to provide basic nomenclatural information for the species and genera reported or known to be in New Zealand;
    Footnote: The Kermadec Islands are excluded from the scope of the catalogue, and hence the index, but a checklist of Kermadec species is given as an appendix.
  • to provide keys to higher taxa (superfamilies, families, and where possible subfamilies) known in New Zealand; and
  • to provide some historical notes on the study of Lepidoptera in New Zealand, and give some idea of the group's representation here, in contrast to other countries or regions.
It is not intended to give a general account of Lepidoptera; for that, the reader is directed to Common (1970, 1975) and Nielsen & Common (1988, in preparation).

This catalogue and set of keys is dedicated primarily to G.V. Hudson, as a complement - and, I intend, a compliment - to his pioneering works, but not a replacement of them. As the likelihood of a replacement for 'Hudson' is remote, this catalogue is offered as a way of keeping his works up to date. It is my wish also to acknowledge the debt that, as a working lepidopterist, I owe to Alfred Philpott and to my late co-explorer, Kenneth Fox.

In all, some 2280 names have been applied to moths and butterflies collected in New Zealand. Most of the type specimens have been seen by me. Those held overseas were examined during a visit to the British Museum (Natural History), London, in 1980 - 1981, with the support of a study award. In the catalogue I recognise over 1760 species as 'valid', but for some groups with hosts in Asteraceae and Scrophulariaceae there is evidence for the presence of cryptic species. For all groups new methods of looking at species will uncover other cryptic species assemblages, as pheromonal and electrophoretic methods already have in Tortricidae (Foster et al. 1986) and Hepialidae.

Purchase this publication