Insect experts catching moths to see if their NZ population has declined

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

Insect experts are recreating the work of entomologist George Hudson in an attempt to find out if moth species have changed at Zealandia in Wellington.

Among the group catching moths and comparing the results with Mr Hudson’s study in the same valley 100 years ago is his grandson, George Gibbs.

“It’s almost genetic. I guess I started my first moths when I was about seven, that’s 80, 70 years ago,” Mr Gibbs said.

His grandfather spent 24 years documenting and hand-painting New Zealand’s moths and butterflies, publishing The Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand in 1928.

George Hudson was also a pioneer for daylight saving, proposing the idea to the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1895.

“It was to do with his habit of wanting to be outdoors when the weather was good and when he could find moths and other insects.”

Mr Gibbs said investigating moth populations on the same site as his grandfather a century on is special.

“Just a sort of sense of awe on my part as to what he achieved.

“He’s the only person I’ve ever come across who’s had a goal and an ideal at age 14 and lived it to the end,” he said.

Department of Conservation ecology science advisor Eric Edwards said the long-term study aims to provide some facts around anecdotal evidence that moth are in decline in New Zealand.

“There’s those crazy stories of insect decline worldwide, you know Insectageddon, and what’s the New Zealand version of that story?” he said.

He said he predicts they’ll find more exotic moths than were present in Karori during Mr Hudson’s research. 

Zealandia director Danielle Shanahan said the opportunity to compare the results with the historic research will help the organisation find out what moth species are present and what are missing from what used to be in the area ... and be able to potentially try and attract those sorts of species again".

Moths are plant pollinators and an important food source for other animals.

The third search found 44 species of moth with the team hoping to find more in the warmer months, Mr Edwards said.

"We plan to continue to survey in all seasons over next couple of years so that the effort is like Hudson’s effort,” he said in a statement.

The Wellington branch of the Entomological Society of New Zealand is involved with the search, and Te Papa has offered to curate any unknown moth species found.