Pepetuna

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Libby was sweeping the steps of the museum and called me over, knowing my interest in butterflies and moths.

“Look,” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful”!

It was a puriri or ghost moth (Aenetus virescens), and had been blown about by the wind, it’s been really blustery today. As you can see from the photograph, it is quite spectacular, with pale velvety green markings which must give it a very ghost-like appearance if you saw it flying at night.

I suspected this one was in its last moments of its life as they live less than a few days–some say 24 hours.

It is found only in NZ and in fact is our largest moth with a wing span of 15cm; in Maori it’s known as pepetuna, mokoroa, ngutara or pungoungou.

It was stunningly beautiful and we rescued many of the eggs as they blew around on the museum steps. The eggs would normally be laid on the forest floor. On hatching the larvae begin their life living in the forest floor in fungi, then they create an L-shaped tunnel into the trunk of a large tree–not necessarily a puriri but beech, lacebark, putaputaweta (marble leaf) and wineberry. They then feed around the opening of the tunnel entrance, hiding their whereabouts by a silken tent, before changing into a pupa–this process from egg to adult takes five years. Yes, five years.

Sadly the moths, which are active at night, do not have mouthparts and so do not feed. They are just with us long enough to breed.

I took the moth indoors to allow it to lay its remaining eggs out of the wind; the eggs will be scattered later on the forest floor. Some may survive and some will no doubt be food for other wildlife, such as our ruru.

If you are interested in encouraging children to appreciate nature, Denise Whitmore’s book, Pepetuna is highly recommended, published by Penguin. It’s more than a story about Pepetuna; ask at the Russell Bookshop, www.abook.co.nz.

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