Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Elusive moth found

Wednesday 22 Apr 2015

The <em>Thambotricha vates</em> moth. Image Bryce McQuillan

The Thambotricha vates moth. Image Bryce McQuillan

An elusive species of moth that hasn’t been seen in New Zealand for almost 20 years has been found.

Landcare Research scientist Robert Hoare recently discovered the Thambotricha vates - which translates to wonder-haired prophet - in KatiKati, in the Bay of Plenty.

Up until then the moth, which is a native species, hadn’t been seen since 1996 when Hoare’s predecessor John Dugdale caught one in Taranaki. Only about 15 have ever been caught since it was first discovered in Wellington in 1922.

Hoare said the catch was “pure luck”.

He realised almost instantly what he had caught when he looked in his net.

“It took me about half a second to realise what it was. I was delighted. It was a rather long time since I’d found anything particularly wonderful,” he said.

“I’ve been in New Zealand 17 years and that was the first time I’ve ever found that moth. Having light trapped for years and years and years, I never found it by the normal technique.”

He believed this indicated the moth was not drawn to strong lights as other species were.

The Thambotricha vates Hoare found was a female. The male is distinctive as it has very long hairs on its antenna.

Hoare said the discovery came as an “amazing surprise” as he “hardly expected to find anything” as he made his way through native forest along a track off Lindemann Road.

Despite the lack of sightings, Hoare believed there was no reason to think the moth was rare or endangered. It was a positive sign that the sightings were so widespread from Northland to Nelson, he said.

One was also found a couple of weeks later by photographer Bryce McQuillan, who had photographed Hoare’s discovery.

Hoare hoped the DNA from the moth may reveal some clues about its host plant. Little is known about the “mysterious” moth aside from the fact that it lives in native forest, Hoare said.

“The caterpillar has a specific host plant it feeds on. Discovering that host will give us the most important piece of information needed to preserve the species,” he said.