Art. XXXI.—Note on the Occurrence of Dermestes lardarius and Phoracantha recurva in Canterbury, New Zealand.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 2nd April, 1873.]
On the 12th of last February I captured a specimen of Dermestes in a box of insects lately received from Australia by Dr. Haast for the Christchurch Museum. Upon comparing it with a specimen of D. lardarius taken at
Rome, I am unable to detect any difference. I feel certain, therefore, that this cosmopolite devourer has found its way to New Zealand. I find that a species of Dermestes, from this country—D.carnivorus (versicolor, Castelnau)—was long ago described by Fabricius, but I have never seen it, or even its description. The genus Dermestes was first established by Linnæs (Syst. Nat. Ed.; 12, II., p. 561), and its characteristics may be found in Lacordaire, Vol. II., p. 461. From the same author I gather that the insects of this genus, in all their stages, live principally upon animal substances, apparently giving preference to those which are partly desiccated, but that in other respects their taste is so little exclusive that they may be considered almost omnivorous. Placed in favourable circumstances they multiply with great rapidity, and become exceedingly troublesome. Most of them have a very extended geographical distribution, so much so that it is often difficult to determine their true country. The other insect which I have to notice is a much larger and more conspicuous one.
In the early part of the same month a daughter of Mr. Tully, of Middleton, near Christchurch, found a very remarkable Beetle upon the wall of his cow-shed. The insect was forwarded to Mr. Fereday, and by him kindly given to me. From the brilliancy of its markings, so different to the dull and sombre hues which generally characterize the fauna of New Zealand, we at once concluded that our specimen was a visitor from Australia, and upon comparing it with some Victorian types in the Christchurch Museum, we found its name to be Phoracantha recurva. The genus Phoracantha belongs to the remarkable family of Coleoptera, Longicornia, and contains many large and handsome species much superior to the one under consideration. All its members are wood-borers, so it is easy to account for the introduction of any of them into the Province. Probably our specimen arrived in some of the timber imported for the railway, near which it was found. Considering the constant traffic between Australia and New Zealand, the appearance in the latter country of Dermestes and Phoracantha is in no way remarkable, being, in fact, just what might have been expected; but it is most important that the first appearance of all new species should be accurately noted and placed on record.
The genus Phoracantha, with the exception of one species which occurs in New Caledonia, is peculiar to Australia. Its name was first established in 1840, by Newman (Ann. of Nat. Hist., V., p. 19), and its characteristics may also be found in Lacordaire, “Genera des Coléoptéres,” Vol. VIII., p. 303. Dieffenbach (Vol. II., p. 278) mentions a Phoracantha dorsalis as occurring in New Zealand, but I know nothing more of it.