The 100 Year Moth Project: Spotting species in the sanctuary

The 100 Year Moth Project: Spotting species in the sanctuary

One hundred years ago, Wellington naturalist George Hudson walked the forest near his home – now Zealandia wildlife sanctuary – in search of fascinating New Zealand insects. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hudson collected and identified thousands of moth specimens, now part of one of the largest insect collections in New Zealand.

Natural History intern Annie Robertson describes his legacy, the 100 Year Project, and what the citizen science and entomologist communities have found.

Hudson had a real knack for uncovering countless camouflaged moths hidden on tree trunks and amongst leaf litter. He also enlisted the help of a white umbrella to find the moths and insects he missed, by hitting plants so that the insects would fall in.

When George Hudson died, his insect collection, detailed illustrations, and diaries were gifted to Te Papa.

Moths from the Hudson Collection, 2018. Photograph by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa (109961)

Throughout the years, many other entomologists have followed in George Hudson’s footsteps by walking the bush of Zealandia and observing the moth population.

Declana atronivea. Photo by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa (TMP034482)

Dusk detectives

Now, a citizen project run by the Wellington branch of the Entomological Society of New Zealand, with the help of Te Papa, Zealandia, The Department of Conservation, and a few keen members of the public, is aiming to compare the moth populations from 100 years ago, to now.

The group has been going out to Zealandia once a month at dusk since 2019, to generate a species list of the moth and butterfly fauna that reside in the sanctuary.

Citizen science group going to collect moths at Zealandia, 2021. Photo by ESNZ Wellington Branch

The collection and survey of the species present is done by using an ultraviolet light and a large white sheet. The species are naturally drawn to light and will often settle on the sheet allowing the group to identify them.

The project uses the iNaturalist website where they post photos of the different moths to allow experts from around the world to identify and offer suggestions on species names.

The group of entomologists (scientists who study insects) is also capturing a few specimens to build a reference collection that can be used for education and research, and the specimens are being integrated into our natural history collection.

Metacrias huttoni (Butler, 1879), Kenneth Fox, 1976. Photo by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa (AI.013352)

The importance of this citizen science project is to have historical comparisons from 100 years ago to now, to create a story about the species of moths we have lost and gained in that time, and which might also coincide with land-use change and ecological restoration.

As moths are biological and environmental indicators, pollinators, and an important aspect of ecosystem food webs, this study also allows for some members of the public to be actively involved in furthering moth research, as well as gaining knowledge and appreciation for some of our flying critters of the night sky.

Tmetolophota purdii. Photo by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa (TMP034468)

What’s been found

So far, they have already unveiled some species of moth that have been lost from the time when George Hudson collected from Zealandia.

An example is the Chrysorthenches drosochalca – the citizen science project has yet to come across or find this species of moth.

Although they have managed to find some species of moth that were not present in Hudson’s collection, like the Orocrambus angustipennis in the photo below.

Orocrambus angustipennis. Photo by William Brockelsby, via iNaturalist CC BY 4.0

There’s also been plenty of moths found by both Hudson and the citizen science project, like the Puriri moth (Aenetus virescens), for example.

Puriri moths from the Hudson Collection, 2018. Photograph by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa (109947)

Further information

Find out more about the Entomological Society of New Zealand, and the upcoming events for Moth week 17-25 July 2021.

Find updated observations and photos of moths that are continuingly being found with the 100 Year Moth Project on iNaturalist.

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