Kaitorete home to rare moth

The short-winged,flightless female of Kupea electilis. Photograph courtesy of Brian Patrick.

The short-winged,flightless female of Kupea electilis. Photograph courtesy of Brian Patrick.

 Brian Patrick, a leading Lepidoptera expert living at Birdlings Flat, has spent many hours exploring Kaitorete Spit and the wider lakeside in search of rare and elusive moth species. This is a fascination he shares with his son Hamish, a PhD student at Lincoln University.

Brian’s commitment to the moth species around the lake has brought with it some significant developments. His work has been crucial in identifying and monitoring two endemic moths to Kaitorete Spit – the Kupe’s Grassmoth (Kupea electilis) and the Kaitorete Jumper (Kiwaia jeanae). Both moths are ranked by the Department of Conservation as Nationally Endangered.

Until 2012, a female Kupe’s Grassmoth had never been seen, that is until Brian and his son Hamish tracked one down on a hot autumn day while out mothing.

The female Kupe Grassmoth is a very short-winged flightless moth, while her male counterpart has a limited power of flight, marking a significant difference between the two genders. Both sexes are extremely well camouflaged in their sandy, cushionfield habitat in the back dunes of Kaitorete Spit.

The Kupe’s Grassmoth spends most of the year underground as larvae feeding on native twitch Zoysia minima, a ground-hugging coastal plant. This rare moth species only emerges between mid-March to mid-May when they mate, lay eggs and then pass away. In an attempt to monitor the Kupe’s Grassmoth, four monitoring sites around the Spit have been set up by the Department of Conservation. Two transects at each site are walked and moths are then counted as they are disturbed.

 

Holotype of Kiwaia jeanae collected on Kaitorete Spit in March. Photograph courtesy of Brian Patrick.

Holotype of Kiwaia jeanae collected on Kaitorete Spit in March. Photograph courtesy of Brian Patrick.

The second endemic moth Brian has been studying, the Kaitorete Jumper Kiwaia jeanae, jumps around like a flea, and if you are lucky enough to see one, chances are it will be bouncing around all over the place.

The Kaitorete Jumper is usually found in the dry undisturbed cushionfield areas of the Spit. This moth is much more widespread along the Spit than Kupe’s Grassmoth and monitoring is undertaken by the Department of Conservation at three sites using a timed 30-minute walk amongst Raoulia cushionfield habitat, counting all the Kaitorete Jumpers seen.  This species’ biology is unknown but its larvae may be feeding deep within Raoulia cushions.

The main threats to both species are weed invasion of habitat, disturbance of its fragile back dune habitat by recreational vehicles, development of the areas private land and via predators.

Because monitoring of both species is only two years old, it is too soon to show any trends but we will update you once we know more about these rare and beautiful species of moth.  But both species appear secure if the Spit continues to be managed the way it is now.