Art. XXXIV.—Remarks on the Coleoptera of Canterbury, New Zealand.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 4th September, 1872.]
Before commencing my brief review of the Coleoptera of this province I trust I may be permitted to make a few observations upon the difficulties which beset the entomological student in New Zealand, and upon the means by which in my opinion they may be obviated. For several years I have taken much interest in the beetles of this colony, and have collected them so far as my avocations would permit. At every step of my inquiry, however, I have been met and thwarted by an obstacle which I apprehend is familiar to all
those who have commenced to study any branch of zoological science in a new country. I allude to the extreme difficulty, nay, almost impossibility, of ascertaining with precision what has been written upon its fauna, and which of its species have been described by European authors. Anyone who attempts to describe those animals which he conceives to be new without possessing this knowledge is certain not only to fall into many errors, but, by the creation of unnecessary synonyms, to cause much confusion and to obstruct rather than forward the cause of science.
All those who are acquainted with the uncertainty which already exists in scientific nomenclature, must be aware that persistence in such a course would speedily reduce zoological literature to a perfect chaos. Mr. M'Lachlan, the eminent neuropterist, in alluding to this subject says, in substance, as follows:—“I conceive anyone to be guilty of a high crime against science who describes a species as new without first endeavouring, by every possible means, to ascertain whether it has already been described or not.” In Canterbury, however, our museums and libraries are, or were till very recently, so miserably provided that it has been impossible for a collector whose business confined him to the province to acquire this necessary information. When we reflect upon the number of our colonists who have been so fortunate as to revisit Europe, when we consider that many of them have been men of wealth and influence, and, what is more to the purpose, when we recollect that many of them have been sent home at the public expense and have drawn liberal salaries from the public purse whilst in England, it must be a matter of astonishment that scarcely any one of them should have devoted a very small portion of his money and leisure to the purpose of providing the naturalists of this province with the necessary means for pursuing their studies. Miscellaneous contributions of all kinds are arriving at our museum, and I fully admit their beauty and value, but what the practical naturalist requires is a small collection, consisting of duplicates of all the New Zealand species existing in the museums of Europe. I fear it will be some time before we possess this desideratum. Indeed, it was only about two months ago that we heard that a copy of the “Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’” was at length on its way to Christchurch. As this work may be considered the foundation stone of New Zealand natural history I shall venture to make a short digression concerning it.
When the “Erebus” and “Terror” returned home, about 1843, Parliament voted, I believe, £4,000 towards the publication of the results of the voyage. Of this sum, £2,000 was devoted to botany, and a like sum to zoology. In due course Dr. Hooker produced the portion assigned to him in the shape of that excellent work upon the flora of New Zealand, with which we have been long familiar, and with which our libraries are pretty well provided. For
some mysterious reason, however, the “zoology” was never regularly published, and I believe that a single copy never found its way to this province. At any rate, I have made repeated inquiries and could never ascertain the existence of one here, though there may be some in the other provinces. Considering that this costly work was published at the imperial expense, with the intention of diffusing as widely as possible the information acquired during the voyage, it must betoken either great stinginess on the part of scientific authorities at home or great apathy on the part of those-here, that we should have remained for so many years without a copy of it. Of course, a great many additional New Zealand species of Coleoptera have been described since 1846, but to give you some idea of the difficulty of tracing them, I may mention that some of our beetles have found their way into the hands of a Russian entomologist and that, owing to the unfortunate disuse of Latin, and the mania for “modern languages” which are now so fashionable, he has actually described them in Russian! Well might the president of the Entomological Society of London remark, in one of his recent addresses, “that if the practice of recording scientific information exclusively in the vernacular be persisted in, the thorough investigation of any family of insects, already extremely difficult, will soon become totally impossible.” Books alone, however, are not all that the working student requires, and having been long convinced of the necessity of procuring for the province such a typical collection as I have alluded to, I some years ago endeavoured to supply one for this purpose.
I took with me when returning to England as good a collection of our insects as somewhat adverse circumstances had enabled me to get together. I intended to have had these properly named and classified in London, to have compared them with the types in the British Museum, and to have then sent them back to the colony. Unfortunately, this small collection was lost when the “Blue Jacket” was burnt, and all my efforts to replace it, by inducing my New Zealand friends to forward me specimens whilst in England, proved, with one exception, quite unavailing. Thus, although I was ready to devote a considerable portion of my time, and to incur not a little trouble and expense in order to provide a working collection of insects for our museum, I was unable to do anything for want of the necessary material, and was compelled to return to New Zealand almost as ignorant of its descriptive entomology as I left it. Labouring under such great disadvantages, I should not venture to lay the following remarks before you, had I not observed since my return a lamentable dearth of original papers in our Society; and had I not also noticed that a meagre and imperfect paper often has the effect of eliciting valuable information from those who possess it.
The poverty of the New Zealand fauna is well known, and the order Coleoptera affords but few exceptions to the general rule. Our beetles are
generally small and inconspicuous, and are, on the whole, greatly inferior to those of Britain. This comparison will appear all the more striking when we reflect that Great Britain itself does not possess more than half the number of species contained in an equal area of the continent of Europe, and it is almost needless to observe that Europe is greatly excelled in this respect by Asia, Africa, and America. Indeed, a Swiss entomologist once remarked to me that after collecting in his own country nature appeared to be dead in England, and from my own experience of European collecting I am able to indorse his statement. Three thousand species of Coleoptera have been found in Great Britain, and, although I cannot say precisely how many New Zealand species have been described, yet I do not think the number can possibly exceed five hundred. When, therefore, we consider what a diversity of climate and surface these islands present, it is obvious that there is ample scope for further investigation. Not only are our species few in number, but the individuals composing them are small and inconspicuous, and singularly destitute of brilliant colouring. The same dull and sombre hue so characteristic of the vegetation of New Zealand extends itself, with but few exceptions, to its fauna. The collector will vainly search here for those splendid metallic colours for which this order of insects is so celebrated, and which are unrivalled throughout the whole range of creation. Indeed, I only know of one finely coloured beetle in this province. I allude to the Pyronota festiva of Fabricius, which is so extremely common in our gardens and orchards, where it often does considerable damage. This is a pretty little insect no doubt, but how poor does it appear in comparison with the brilliant genera Cetonia, Gnorimus, Trichius, Aromia, Chrysomela, and Donacia, which are so familiar to the British collector.
Commencing with the Cicindelidœ, a family which, on account of the perfection of its organisation, was justly placed by Linnæus at the head of the whole order, we shall find that New Zealand is well represented. Five species occur in Britain, and of these only one can be called common, the others being exceedingly local. These islands possess certainly five, and probably six species, viz.: C. tuberculata, C. douei, C. late-cincta, C. parryi and C. feredayi, the last named by Mr. Bates from a specimen sent to him by one of our members. There is also another species which Mr. Bates hesitates at present to consider as distinct. I have only taken myself C. tuberculata and C. late-cincta in this island. C. feredayi is apparently very rare, and Mr. Fereday does not possess a duplicate. The other species appear to be confined to the North Island. The habits of Cicindela are well known. From their beauty and ferocity they have been appropriately named “tiger-beetles.” As an instance of the utter insufficiency of popular language to discriminate even the widest marks of distinction between insects, and of the consequent
necessity which exists for a latin classification, I may mention that in Wellington these beetles are generally called, absurdly enough, “New Zealand bees.” The larva inhabits deep burrows excavated in the sand, and almost every steep bank in the province is perforated by them. The habits of the larvæ and perfect insect are similar, both being equally fierce, and exclusively carnivorous.
Proceeding next to the numerous and important family of the Carabidœ we shall find that we have but one speciés at all worthy of comparison with the twelve fine species of Carabus which are found in the mother country. The splendid genus Calosoma is, so far as I know, totally wanting. The same may be said of the beautiful Callistus and Drypta, and the curious Brachinus. Indeed, I may take this opportunity of remarking that although the New Zealand insects in many cases closely resemble English ones, yet this resemblance is almost always to small and dull coloured species, and hardly ever to the fine or conspicuous ones. The large beetle to which I have alluded above is Feronia australasiæ? It is about an inch long, of a bronze colour, and very common in the neighbourhood of Christchurch under wood and stones. Seven other species of Feronia occur in New Zealand, but, owing to the loss of my collection, I cannot say how many of them I have taken in Canterbury. The Islands, and probably this province, possess at least five species of Anchomenus very similar to their English relatives. The genus Amara, so numerous in England, and which comprises what children call “sunshiny beetles,” does not occur in the “Zoology of the ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror,”’ but having taken a considerable number of specimens quite lately I feel certain that either it or a closely allied genus is common in Canterbury. The remarkable genus Broscus is well represented in New Zealand, but most of its specimens appear to have come from Otago. I may remark that none of them equal in size the single British species Broscus cephalotes, which is usually found under stones on the sea coast. Of the extensive genus Harpalus, which numbers twenty-eight species in England, I am only sure of having taken a single one, H. novœ-zealandiœ. It is abundant at certain seasons of the year upon the sand-hills near Christchurch. I am not able to afford any more information with regard to this important family, but I may note that many of our species have been recently described by Count de Castelnau in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, but I have unluckily mislaid his paper. Farmers and gardeners will do well to observe that all members of the families Cicindelidœ and Caribidœ, being carnivorous, are extremely beneficial to them, and should on no account be destroyed.
We have now arrived at the interesting family of the Dytiscidœ, or water-beetles, with which New Zealand is but poorly provided so far as the number of species is concerned, though the individuals comprising them are often very
numerous. I once procured a single specimen about an inch long, and I imagine from the description that it must have been the Cybister hookeri of White, the entomologist, who described the species collected by the naturalists of the “Erebus” and “Terror.” This beetle was about equal in size to the English Dytiscus, of which there are five species. Two species of Colymbetes are described by White. One of them, C. rufimanus, is very common in Christchurch, where it thrives in artesian water. All the Dytiscidœ are voracious creatures, and in Europe they have sometimes been credited with doing damage to young fish. That D. marginalis can destroy a fish of tolerable size I have myself often proved, though I do not imagine the mischief they do in this way to be appreciable. We have, apparently, no representative of the huge Hydrous piceus, one of the largest beetles in Britain, and about two inches in length. The small family of the Gyrinidœ, or “whirlwhigs,” which may be often seen moving in circles upon the ponds and ditches of Europe, seems also to be wanting. Owing to the peculiar habits of water-beetles they are but seldom seen, save by the collector, and we may therefore expect that our list will be largely increased.
The division Brachelytra, or the family Staphylinidœ, comes next in order. White describes but three species, and 700 occur in Britain, so it is obvious that many remain to be noticed here. These insects, on account of their long slender form and short elytra, are seldom supposed to be beetles by the uninitiated, though on a close inspection their affinities are obvious. Our largest species is Staphylinus oculatus, which, however, is not a quarter the size of Ocypus olens, the well known “devil's coach-horse” of England. It is abundant under the carcases of sheep and oxen, and though indigenous, it is probably one of those insects which have increased since the colonization of these islands. Only two other species are described by White, and we may safely assume that all the others remaining are small and insignificant. All the individuals belonging to this family render themselves useful to man by removing putrefying matter and preying upon noxious insects.
Following Rye's classification we next arrive at the section Necrophaga, the members of which feed upon dead animal substances, and which comprises the burying-beetles of Europe. We need not expect to find many representatives of this family here. I only know of one small species belonging to Saprinus, a genus which numbers 105 species in Europe. This beetle is abundant in sheeps' heads and other carrion. I have not been able to compare it with the species of Australia, but, from having found it in the carcases of native birds, I think it is most likely indigenous. This species, also, has probably increased largely since the importation of cattle.
Leaving out several families which I imagine to be totally wanting, we come to the Melolonthidœ, a family too well known to us by the ravages it
commits on our lawns and pastures. The best known example of this family is the common cockchafer of the British Isles, and our species, though much smaller, almost rivals its destructive habits. Three specimens, viz., Odontria striata, O. cinnamonea, and a third and smaller kind as yet undescribed, are abundant in this province. I have never heard of the larger Xylonychus being taken in Canterbury, though it is common at Wellington. To this family belongs also Pyronota festiva, to which I have previously alluded.
Next to the Melolonthidœ the coprophagous beetles, comprising the families Geotrupidœ, Copridœ, and Aphodiadœ, etc., are usually placed. In no section is the paucity of the New Zealand Coleoptera more conspicuous than in this, which is celebrated for the quaint and grotesque forms of the members composing it, and for the reverence paid to one of its species by the ancient Egyptians. By way of illustrating this contrast, let us take a plain frequented by cattle in the south of Europe, on the banks of the Tiber for instance, and compare it with a similar locality in New Zealand. There we shall find every piece of dung swarming with various species of Aphodius, Onthophagus, and Oniticellus. Beneath, the ground is perforated with the burrows of the huge horned Copris and Geotr´upes, and around the mystic Ateuchi are busily engaged in their sisyphean tasks, whilst the air resounds with the hum of the more active Gymnopleuri, and numerous Carabidœ are present to feed upon the other species. Here, on the contrary, so far as insects are concerned, all is silent and motionless, and the coleopterist who was totally ignorant of the history of New Zealand might infer a great portion of it from the absence of these beetles alone. Specimens of Onthophagus granulatus have been taken by Mr. Fereday in the province of Nelson, but as Mr. Bates considers them to be identical with the Australian species, there can be no doubt that they have been imported with cattle. I have taken an Aphodius near to Christchurch, and am disposed to think that this small species may be indigenous. A relative of the last-named beetle, Oxyomus exsculptus, is described by White, but the locality is not mentioned.
But although nature, not having provided New Zealand with large quadrupeds, was under no obligation to provide scavengers for the removal of their excrement, yet, as if anxious to supply the deficiency, she has furnished us with some conspicuous members of the Dynastidœ, a family most closely allied to them. Having no collection to refer to, I cannot say whether the two species figured by White occur in this province, but, at least three species of the family are abundant on the sand-hills. At some seasons of the year they must be exceedingly common, for the ground is often covered with their dead bodies, but I have only met with one specimen alive during an experience of fifteen years. Doubtless some residents on the sand-hills can throw light on the habits of this insect, which are apparently very peculiar.
The larvæ are often found under cow-dung and logs of wood, and a short time since Mr. M. Walker forwarded to Dr. Haast a fine specimen of the perfect insect, which he had obtained by digging below high water-mark. The nearest ally to these beetles in my European collection is Pentodon punctatus, common in the vicinity of Rome, but with apparently different habits.
Amongst the Lucanidœ we find the gigantic stag-beetle represented by the pigmy Lissotes reticulatus, a strongly made, flat insect, about six lines in length, and common in this province under bark and in decayed wood. A Dendroblax, and two species of Dorcus, which seem to be remarkable, also occur in New Zealand, but I have not met with them in Canterbury.
Glancing next at the Sternoxi, comprising the families Buprestidœ, Elateridœ, etc., amongst which are found some of the most gorgeous beetles of the tropics, we at length meet with a section of which the New Zealand specimens are decidedly superior to the British, though not, perhaps, to those of southern Europe. The English species are all small and inconspicuous, whilst several kinds of Ochosternus, commonly found here, are large and hand-some insects, though they cannot boast of brilliant colouring. Being without a collection for reference, I cannot venture to enumerate even those kinds which I have myself taken, but seeing that White describes twelve species of Elateridœ alone, and the number has doubtless been considerably increased since his time, we may safely assume that New Zealand is well represented. The larvæ of the larger species of this division live in dead wood, upon which the perfect insects are generally found.
I regret that I can furnish little or no information respecting the extensive division of the Malacodermi, the best known examples of which are probably the “soldiers” and “sailors” of Britain, and to which also the common glow-worm belongs. The only species contained in my slender collection is Nacerdes lineata, Fab., which I have taken in great numbers at Little River under the bark of decayed trees. I have also a Ptinus, taken in Riccarton Wood by Mr. Fereday, and I find that an Atopida, two species of Opilus, an Anobius, and three other species of Ptinus, occur in New Zealand.
The section Heteromera, of which the meal-worm, so well known to bird fanciers, may be taken as a familiar type, is next to be noticed. Our species are mostly small in comparison with those of Europe, but the individuals composing them are often exceedingly numerous. These are light-shunning insects found under bark and stones, and not unfrequently amongst sacks and clothes which have been long undisturbed. One species is often met with in Christchurch, but I have taken a much larger under bark in Talbot Forest, and I once found a small species so abundant on the sea coast beyond Amuri as to be a perfect nuisance. Many species of this section may be easily mistaken for Carabidœ. Adelium harpaloides, a small species, affords a good
example of this apparent resemblance between the two orders. I possess a few specimens of Prioscelida tenebrionides, White, but have never taken it in Canterbury. Two species of Cilibe and two of Opatrum have also been described from New Zealand. I have found a Mordella (probably antarctica) at Little River, and have a specimen of Mordella 10-guttata, but do not know in what part of these islands it was taken. The singular family Meloidœ, or oil-beetles, appears to be unrepresented in this colony. Two species of Selenopalpus described by White, and belonging to the same family as the beautiful Œdemera cœrulea of Britain, would seem to be worthy of notice, but I am only acquainted with one of them.
We now enter the Rhynchophora, or weevils, a section well represented in New Zealand, where some species are to be found finer than any of the British. Although I am not aware of any member of the remarkable family Brentidœ having been taken in Canterbury I cannot pass it over in silence, as it is the most characteristic one amongst the Coleoptera of New Zealand. These insects are easily recognized by their enormous snouts, and one species at least (Lasiorhynchus barbicornis) is common at Wellington, and occurs also, I believe, in Nelson. I am not well acquainted with the exotic species, but a few which I possess from Mexico are much inferior to ours. Amongst the Curculionidœ the largest species I know of has been taken by Mr. Fereday on black-birch trees. It belongs to the genus Rhyncodes, and another large species (Rhyncodes saundersii) has been found by the same gentleman on “spaniards” (Aciphylla) at the Rakaia. I am not able to enter into details respecting the numerous smaller species of this family, but the curious genus Scolopterus deserves a passing notice. S. penicillatus has been taken by Dr. Powell, I believe, at Governor Bay, and I have found the same insect at Amuri.
We now enter upon an important section, the members of which may be easily recognized even by those who have paid no attention to entomology. The Longicornes are, for the most part, wood-feeders, and the coleopterist would naturally expect to find them abundant in so densely timbered a country as some parts of New Zealand. Nor will he, on the whole, be disappointed, although our species can scarcely be said to equal those of Britain. To this group belongs the largest beetle found in these islands, Prionoplus reticularis, a species which is abundant throughout their whole extent. I hardly need mention that the larvæ of this beetle used to form an important article of diet amongst the Maoris, but it is interesting to note that a similar grub was considered a dainty by the ancient Romans, and that one of their patrician families received its name therefrom. Linnæus, indeed, applied the word “cossus” to the larva of the goat-moth, but it is now generally admitted that the larva in question must have been coleopterous. These insects undoubtedly live in the wood for several years before assuming
their perfect shape. The larvæ of the stag-beetle are said to live in the wood for four years, and many other wood-boring beetles are supposed to exist in it for a still longer period. Though I have no positive proof I feel certain, from observations I have made, that Prionoplus passes at least four years in the larva state. Upon leaving the province several years ago I put aside a log which I knew to contain larvæ of Prionoplus, and requested a friend to watch it during my absence. Upon returning, after an interval of three years and a half, I split open the log and found larvæ still there. Perfect insects might have visited the log whilst I was away, but, under the circumstances, it is hardly possible that they should have done so. The nearest ally to Prionoplus amongst the British beetles is Prionus coirarius, an insect which is by no means common.
Next to Prionoplus the best known of our Longicornes is Coptomma variegatum, a handsome insect, about 10 lines in length, which I have frequently taken on posts and rails near Christchurch, though the forest is, of course, its proper habitation. I have found Obrium fabricianum, the smallest of the family, abundant upon flowers at Hoon Hay. A Longicorn which I have taken under titoki bark on the Peninsula is of a new species and genus also. Besides these kinds the following have been kindly given to me by Mr. Bates and Mr. Fereday, but all, I imagine, were taken in the North Island. Hexathrica pulverulenta, Westw., Tetrorea cilipes, White, Navomorpha lineata, Fab., Xyloteles griseus, F., Œmona villosa, F., and Ambeodontus bituberculatus, Reatenbacher. Many other Longicornes have been described and figured by White in the work to which I have so often alluded, but they all seem to have been taken in the North Island, and I am acquainted with none of them.
According to the classification which I have followed, the Eupoda next claim our attention. This section comprises some of the most beautiful genera of Britain (Donacia, Chrysomela, etc.), but I am almost totally ignorant of its representatives here. White describes two species of Chrysomelidœ, and I have taken at least one allied to Crepidodera. The Pseudotrimera conclude the order, and amongst them the Coccinellidœ, or lady-birds, are well known and widely distributed. Of the three or four species which I have taken in this province, none are equal in size to the common 7-punctata, of England, and their colours and markings are generally inferior. I possess, indeed, three very beautiful species, (Chilomenes hamata, Muls., C. maculata, Fab., and Epilachna reticulata), which I procured from a London dealer, but I feel certain that they must have been taken in the North Island.
In conclusion, I wish to offer a few remarks respecting the ease with which insects of the order Coleoptera may be collected and preserved. It is partly to, the ignorance of this, and not entirely to apathy, idleness, or contempt of
science, that I attribute the wretched state of colonial museums so far as indigenous beetles are concerned. Even at Melbourne the entomological collection is beneath criticism. To preserve Coleoptera for an indefinite period it is only necessary to put them into a phial containing any kind of spirits. Orthoptera and Hemiptera may be kept in the same manner, and even Hymenoptera, Neuroptera, and Diptera will suffer but little from such treatment. A still better method for beetles, and one which, undoubtedly, preserves their colours more perfectly, is to put them into sawdust moistened with spirits, care being taken not to make the mixture too wet. It now only remains for me to express a hope, that, if not anticipated by an abler hand, I may be in a position, on some future occasion, to lay before you fuller and more exact information respecting this interesting order of insects.