Sunday, August 11, 2013


Red Admiral

The sight of a Red Admiral the other day reminded me that I was going to ask for unusual butterfly sightings over the spring and summer.  Red and Yellow admirals are around for much of the year, there is the odd one over winter.  They fly fast and settle on flowers, especially Buddleia, and their food plants which are several species of nettles.  I think they are in decline owing to the loss of nettles and the effects of the tiny wasp parasites introduced to take care of the White butterfly menace.

  The White butterfly has been around for 70 years, the parasites help but they attack other butterflies as well.  There is a new butterfly getting established in the north of the South Island "The Large White".  Lets hope the climate is too cool for it to get a foothold in the south.

 The Tussock Butterfly

  The common butterfly of rough country and tussock grassland is the Tussock butterfly.  It is brown with a slow wingbeat and it breeds from sealevel to the subalpine meadows.  It has a relative "The Black mountain butterfly" which only lives above about 1200m.  You see them on scree slopes and although not uncommon, you rarely get a chance to get a close look at one.

Copper Butterfly

  We have three or more sorts of Copper butterfly depending on how you classify them.  A recent study suggests there are dozens of species, each representing an isolated population, but superficially most of the proposed new species are hard to distinguish.  The caterpillars feed on three pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia) species.

Boulder Copper butterfly

  One is our tiniest butterfly, the Boulder butterfly, found in riverbeds and coastal gravel bars.  The others are brighter orange with varying black marks.  They frequent bush margins and visit urban gardens.  If you see a monarch, it is almost certain to have been bred in captivity and released,  They reach their southern limit about Christchurch where they are common along the herbaceous borders in the Botanic Gardens in Hagley Park.

  Another butterfly was added to the Southland list recently. The small Blue butterfly is found throughout New Zealand except for coastal Otago and Southland.  In February I found a small population at Piano Flat, the first Southland record, but only by a few kilometres.  It could be more widespread so look for a small pale butterfly attracted to clover.  The other butterflies that might turn up are vagrants and something we can watch for.  We can expect them after prolonged westerlies.  It's only about four days flying time from Australia and the western parts of New Zealand seem to get the vagrants.  The hot spot is probably Haast but Southland will have its share if you know what to watch out for.

Painted Lady

The Painted lady is the world's most travelled insect.  It is related to the admirals and about the same size but with paler wings.

  The Blue moon is unmistakeable, you know when you have a Blue moon!  It's as big as a monarch and blue with black and white markings.  It is one of the tropical species bred in the butterfly house at Otago Museum.  The Meadow Argus and the Lesser Wanderer are known from a few specimens, mostly from the west coast.  Some turn up in New Zealand each year, possibly more than we imagine because of the unlikelihood of one being spotted by someone interested enough to catch it, photograph it or report it.

There is a single New Zealand record of the Black jezebel, an Australian butterfly which turned up in Waikaia a couple of years ago.  That's as far from the sea as you can get so it must have covered a bit of land first.  Perhaps it was bred there! In Australia the caterpillars feed on mistletoes so maybe we have a breeding population.  The prevalence of mistletoes in Western Southland might suggest that somewhere like the Tuatapere Domain the summer might be the right spot to look for a smallish black and white butterfly with red zig-zags on the wings.

For lepidopterists, that's butterfly and moth enthusiasts, there is a new book by Brian and Hamish Patrick "Butterflies of the South Pacific".  Before buying a moth book it might pay to check the contents.  I heard of a boy who found a book for his moth-collecting brother in a second hand shop.  It was a birthday present and the thought was appreciated but the contents left the recipient rather puzzled.  It was called  "Advice for Young Mothers".