Art. XXXVI.—Observations on a Paper read by Mr. A. Bathgate before the Otago Institute, 11th January, 1870, “On the Lepidoptera of Otago.”
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 11th October, 1871.]
The following brief remarks on the above paper are presented to this Society solely with a view of assisting the promotion of truth and accuracy in the investigation of the Fauna of New Zealand, and as a record of the results of my own observations compared with those of Mr. Bathgate, to whom we are greatly indebted for opening up a subject which has been sadly neglected in the scientific researches of this country.
My knowledge of entomology is so limited, that I feel it almost presumption on my part to attempt to contradict, or question, Mr. Bathgate's statements or inferences; but from differences of opinion springs the confirmation of truth.
I intended contributing long ago to the Transactions of the Society what little information I possess on the Lepidoptera of these islands, but have been hindered by the very limited time at my disposal, and the difficulty of classifying my collection in the absence of typical specimens and descriptive catalogues of European and Exotic insects for reference. I hope, however, to submit to you, during the course of next year, some general notes upon the subject. I regret the delay which has already occurred, not that the information to be afforded by me would have been of much intrinsic value, but because its defects might have called forth the criticism of able and eminent entomologists, and thereby indirectly aided in the advancement of science. Unfortunately for the advancement of entomology, its votaries are derided by the ignorant vulgar—ever ready to laugh at what they do not understand—and many an active mind, that would otherwise have been devoted to this study, has been led to choose some other field for its energies. To vulgar prejudice alone must be assigned the low rank held by the study of insects in the several branches of natural history; for no other animals exercise such a vast influence for good or evil on the human race, or afford so great a fund of interest and enjoyment in the investigation of their wonderfully various habits and instincts.
Happily the time is past when Lady Granville's will was attempted to be set aside on account of lunacy, simply on the ground of her fondness for collecting insects; and we may hope that, ere long, entomology will gain its legitimate place beside the sister sciences.
In the preface to the first edition of “Kirby and Spence's Entomology,” the writer, referring to the value of the study of entomology in the education of youth, says, “All modern writers on this momentous subject unite in recommending, in this view, natural history; and, if ‘the quality of accurate discrimination, the ready perception of resemblances amongst diversities, and, still more, the quick and accurate perception of diversity in the midst of resemblances, constitute one of the most important operations of the understanding; if it be indeed the foundation of clear ideas, and the acquisition of whatever can be truly called knowledge depends most materially on the possession of it;’ if ‘the best logic be that which teaches us to suspend our judgments,’ and ‘the art of seeing, so useful, so universal, and yet so uncommon,’ be ‘one of the most valuable a man can possess,’ there can be no doubt of the judiciousness of their advice. Now, of all the branches of natural history, entomology is unquestionably the best fitted for thus disciplining the mind of youth.”
It will be digressing too much from the particular object of this paper to enter further into the merits of entomology, a subject which you will find fully and powerfully, and, in fact, exhaustively argued in the work to which I have just referred.
The title of Mr. Bathgate's paper has reference only to the Lepidoptera of Otago, but we find his remarks extend to New Zealand generally, and to other insects besides Lepidoptera.
Of the insects inhabiting Otago I have no personal knowlege, never having had an opportunity of visiting that province, and it must therefore be understood that I have no intention of questioning any of Mr. Bathgate's statements which relate solely to that province.
In referring to the niggardliness of nature in providing for New Zealand, Mr. Bathgate says, “She has been far from liberal so far as insects are concerned.” This, I think, is a mistake, unless he compares New Zealand with a tropical country. It is true that certain classes of insects are extremely poorly represented; for instance, the Diurnal Lepidoptera (butterflies). But, on the other hand, there are others which are abundant; and I believe that, if New Zealand were thoroughly searched, it would be found anything but poor in insect fauna.
It must be remembered that the insects we see flying and creeping about in the daytime, are not a tithe of those which exist around us. Anyone camping out in New Zealand will have observed in his tent the swarms of months attracted at night by the candle-light, sometimes to such an extent as to nearly extinguish the candles.
Of the Nocturnal Lepidoptera (months), the families Pyralidœ, and Crambidœ appear to me to be abundantly represented both in genera and species, and
the Noctuœ family are far from scarce on the Canterbury plains; but, so far as my experience extends, the Bombycidœ, a family of moths whose habitat is generally more confined to woodland localities, have very few representatives here. At the same time it must be understood that, with one or two exceptions, Riccarton Bush (a few acres in extent) and some of the bush in the neighbourhood of Wellington, are the only woods (of varied vegetation) in which I have had an opportunity of collecting. I have collected in some of the black birch forests, but with very little success, as might be expected from the small variety of vegetation existing in them.
The Geometrœ family I believe to be very fairly, if not abundantly represented, and also the Pterophori (plume moths); but of the Tineœ (the minute moths) except three or four species of those household pests, clothes moths, which are unfortunately most abundant, there appear to be but few representatives.
The extraordinary number of genera as compared with that of species is a remarkable peculiarity in the Lepidoptera of New Zealand, as also the general sombreness of their colours.
The larvæ referred to by Mr. Bathgate as so destructive to grass by eating the roots, “to such an extent as to cause large patches of it to wither up as if scorched by fire,” I have not the least doubt are of the same genus and species as those which commit a similar depredation in this neighbourhood, and, if so, belong to the Melolonthidœ family (cockchafers), and not to the Elateridœ (click-beetles). I am acquainted with three species of Melolonthidœ inhabiting this province, but all totally distinct from any British species.
In speaking of our insect pests, I am surprised that Mr. Bathgate does not mention the larvæ of a moth of the Noctuœ family, an insect which has committed such depredations on the grass and corn in this province. Perhaps it has not occurred so plentifully in Otago.
The application of the word “Phasiuma” to the insect commonly called a “walking-stick,” is probably an error of the printer. It should be “Phasma,” and the hyphen placed between “walking” and “stick” should be omitted— the common name having been given from its resemblance to an animated twig, and not (as the hyphen would suggest) from any resemblance to a stick we use in walking.
Mr. Bathgate mentions one, but there are several species of Cicada in these islands; the claws of the larvæ of this insect are used for cutting the roots of plants upon which it feeds; the larva is not, neither is the perfect insect, carnivorous.
As to a classified list of New Zealand insects, I believe there is nothing in existence worthy of the title.
Although I have had but little time or opportunity I have collected, of
butterflies at least eight, and of moths quite 300 different species, and it is seldom that I return from a day's or evening's excursion, even in oft-visited localities, without adding many new species to my collection; and any new locality invariably affords me a rich harvest.
Of some 200 or more specimens that I have sent to England, seven-eighths, at least, were undescribed and new to science.
The butterfly mentioned as so much resembling the English Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is the Pyrameis gonerilla of Fabricius. It differs from V. atalanta in having a marginal row of ocellated spots, instead of crescent-shaped markings, on the hind wings, and a very beautifully coloured ocellated spot beyond the middle of the fore-wing, on the under side. I am not quite prepared to admit that there are two broods of this insect during the year for those which appear in spring are almost invariably worn and dilapidated, and have, doubtless, bybernated.
The butterfly with the silvery markings on the under side, must be Argyrophenga antipodum of Doubleday. It is rather common in some of our river beds, particularly the Waimakariri; the genus is distinct from Satyrus. That seen by Mr. Bathgate in the interior of the province of Otago, and supposed by him to be of the Fritillary genus, was probably a “Painted Lady” (Vanessa cardui), which is found in these islands as well as in almost every part of the globe.
There is a handsome butterfly (Vanessa itea) not mentioned by Mr. Bathgate, of which I have specimens taken by Mr. F. H. Meinertzhägen in Hawkes Bay. It would appear to be intermediate between P. gonerilla and V. cardui.
I may also mention a black butterfly, found on the bare summits of the snowy mountains, and of which I have several specimens, taken on the range near Castle Hill Station, west of Porter's Pass, at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. Mr. J. D. Enys was, I believe, the first* person to discover this species, and pointed out to me its locality. It has since been found by Mr. W. T. L. Travers on the mountains at Lake Guyon, in the Nelson province. I believe it to be a species of Erebia, and have named it E. pluto.
There are three, if not four, distinct species of the Chrysophanus genus, namely, C. enda, of Doubleday, C. Feredayi (a new species taken by myself at Kaiapoi Bush, and so named by Mr. H. W. Bates, in compliment to myself) a new species not yet named (taken by me at Wellington), and another which I believe to be new, but am not certain about.
Of the Lycœna genus we have at least two species—L. Oxleyi, of Felder, and L. boldenarum, of White.
[Footnote] * I have since been informed by Dr. Julius Haast that he took this butterfly on the 14th March, 1866, on Whitcombe's Pass at an altitude of 4,212 feet above the sea level.—R.W.F.
The moth mentioned as having black wings with white spots, and the abdomen annulated with orange, is Leptosoma annulatum of Boisduval, belonging to the Leptosomidœ family. It is very abundant here, and its larvæ are common on a species of ragwort—I have never found them on any other plant.
The light fawn-coloured moth noticed by Mr. Bathgate only where spear-grass abounded, I have no doubt is identical with that found on these plains, and which I have myself bred from larvæ taken out of the heart of “Wild Spaniard” (Aciphylla sqarrosa) on which it was feeding. M. Guenee has named and described it from some specimens I sent home, Alysia specificata, considering it both a new genus and new species belonging to the Apamidœ family.
There are several species of Hepialidœ here, but whether they are identical with those referred to by Mr. Bathgate I am unable from his description to make out. M. Guenée has named two new species of the Pielus genus of Hepialidœ, sent home by me, the one umbraculatus and the other variolaris. In describing these in the “Entomologists’ Monthly Magazine, (Vol. V., p. 1), he appends the following note:—“The British Museum Catalogues indicate many species proper to New Zealand, a country which appears to be rich in Nocturni. I am able to recognise some of them, but the greater part of those sent to me seem new; it may be that the locality where Mr. Fereday collects is different to those which Messrs. Bolton, Colenso, and Sinclair visited, or that I have not been able to recognise many of them from the too often little precise descriptions by Mr. Walker.”
I conclude these few remarks by expressing my regret that the study of entomology, and the collection of insects is so little followed in this country, for the change which is rapidly taking place in the herbage and vegetation will assuredly render many species extinct a few years hence. Every one may materially assist in promoting a knowledge of our insect fauna, even by merely forwarding to the museum, or to myself, any uncommon insect he may happen to meet with. As for myself, I shall be only too grateful for such contributions, and I have to thank many friends for assistance already afforded me in that way.