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Mike Meads
Forgotten Fauna

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Chapter 3
Ancient Survivors

Most of the threatened or endangered invertebrates in New Zealand are large, conspicuous, or flightless, and hence fall easy prey to introduced mammals. Others are restricted to habitats which have been largely modified or destroyed. There are some, however, that would be facing a n uncertain future, even without the arrival of humans, a changing landscape and numerous predators.
Myer's cicada is small, camouflaged, and able to fly, but it has not adapted to the changes which have shaped New Zealand's present landscape, and is now isolated in a few rocky screes near Turakirae Head, Wellington. Its

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Titanomis sisyrota, from G.V.Hudson, 1928, Butterflies and Moths of N.Z.

Titanomis sisyrota, from G.V.Hudson, 1928, "Butterflies and Moths of N.Z."


Buller's moth
Aoraia mairi

Buller's moth -- Aoraia mairi

From W.L.Buller, 1873, by courtesy of the Royal Society of N.Z.

New Zealand's largest moth may well be rarer than the black robin or the kakapo. Buller's moth, a relative of the agricultural pest species the porina, is known only from a single specimen caught in the Ruahine Ranges by Sir Walter Buller (the famous Victorian ornithologist) and his brother-in-law, Captain Gilbert Mair, while they were searching for huia during summer of 1867.
The moth was reported to have a wingspan of almost 6 inches (150 millimetres), being as large as the huge bright green puriri or ghost moth which is occasionally attracted to house and street lamps on moist nights mainly during spring. The moth was described by Buller and illustrated in the Transactions of the Royal Society of N.Z. of 1872, and the specimen then lay for over 20 years in his son's collection. In 1890, the moth was reportedly sent to the British Museum on the barque Assaye, which sank during the voyage. However, we now know that the Assaye sank not on its way to England, but on the return journey, and so te present location of the specimen (if it still exists) remains a mystery.
The second part of the mystery lies with two caterpillars collected in 1975 from silver beech forest in the Orongorongo Valley, near Wellington. These caterpillars, which tunnel in the soil and emerge at night to feed on the surrounding vegetation, are new to science. Are they the caterpillars of the mysterious Buller's moth, or a new species of large moth?
Attempts were made to rear the caterpillars on both natural and artificial diets, but without success, and trapping for adult moths has so far failed. Until we are successful, the only record we have of this giant moth is a painting of a single moth caught more than 120years ago!


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