Art. XXIX.—Notes on the Occurrence of some Rare Species of Lepidoptera.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 6th July, 1904]
Dodonidia helmsii, Butler.
It will, I feel sure, be of interest to entomologists to hear that this beautiful butterfly appears to be on the increase. In February of 1903 Mr. H. W. Simmonds, of Wellington, took fifteen specimens on the birch-clad range above Silverstream, and saw some twenty-five or thirty on the wing. He tells me that it is a strong flier, and is very evasive of capture. It appeared to be very local in its habitat, and frequented for the most part the outskirts of a small patch of birch forest on the very ridge of the hill. Mr. Simmonds found it impossible to pursue it through the fern and scrub, but by posting himself at the opening of a glade in the bush he netted most of his specimens as they flew in, to seek, apparently, the shade. In February of the present year he again visited the same locality, but this time was less fortunate, for since the previous season the patch of bush that had been so productive had been partly destroyed by fire, and though he saw a few he was unable to capture any. To some extent this might have been accounted for by the fact of its being dull, cold weather and a little late in the month. He met with one on the low ground at the foot of the range, but with this exception they appeared to keep to the high level. I took one at the latter end of the same month at Lake Papaitonga, Ohau (Manawatu), on the flowers of the white Escallonia. It is the only occasion I have seen it on the wing, and I was much struck by its beauty as it hovered over the blossoms.
In passing, I would strongly recommend collectors to plant a few trees of the Escallonia (Escallonia montevidensis) in their gardens, as it possesses a singular attraction for insects of all kinds. This tree in particular, and which I had planted for the
purpose, seems, when in flower, to be the “Mecca” of the insect world in the neighbourhood. Throughout the day it is alive with Vanessa gonerilla, Chrysophanus salustius, C. enysii, Lycœna phœbe, Nyctemera annulata, and many varieties of Diptera; at dusk it furnishes a harvest of Noctuœ. It comes into blossom about February and flowers freely till the end of March; it grows readily, and is of hardy habit.
Of the seven specimens of Dodonidia in my collection, four were taken by Mr. Simmonds at Silverstream, one was taken on the Wainuiomata Range, one at Papaitonga, and another on the high lands in the Marlborough District.
Chærocampa celerio, Linn.
I think this will be the first record of the appearance of this handsome moth in New Zealand, and it will, I hope, take its place in our list of Sphingidœ, at present only represented by S. convolvuli. In March of the present year Mr. Creagh O'Connor took two very fine specimens at Titahi Bay (about fourteen miles from Wellington), and during the same month saw some ten or twelve others there. The two he netted were taken at dusk while feeding at the sweet-scented Christmas lily; they appeared to affect garden flowers generally, but were difficult to capture, being very active on the wing, and when once alarmed would not return.
Mr. G. V. Hudson tells me that he has recently received a specimen from Nelson. Noting the fact that it has appeared at two places on the West Coast, it is not unlikely to be an Australian species brought over to New Zealand by westerly winds, in view of the fact that the hawk-moth family are possessed of sustained powers of flight; indeed, I might mention that I have in my collection a fine Sphinx that flew on board the R.M.S. “Ruahine” when the vessel was some five hundred miles off the coast of South America. It is to be hoped that this species will become established here, for with its bars of gold on the thorax, its silver-striped upper wings, and the delicacy of its pink underwings, it will certainly be a very handsome addition to our list.
Sphinx convolvuli, Linn.
To the best of my knowledge, this species has so far been confined principally to the Auckland District, where I have taken it freely at the blossoms of the evening-primrose and trumpet-flower, but it appears now to be having a wider range. Five specimens were brought to me at the end of this summer, all taken in Wellington and its environs. Mr. O'Connor has also taken it, and I learn, too, that it has been seen freely in Nelson, and also at Ashburton (Canterbury).
Achæa melicerte, Meyr.
The first and, I believe, the only record of this moth in New Zealand appears in the Transactions of the Philosophical Society in 1876,* in an article contributed by the late Mr. Fereday. He states that a specimen was taken at Wellington by Mr. Liardet, and he describes and figures it as Catocala traversi. In his paper he mentions that one had been taken at Lyttelton two years previously, and that he understood it to be a common moth amongst the gum-trees in Australia.
Mr. Hudson tells me that, as far as he knows, this is the only record of its appearance, and until recently these have been the only two specimens known. (Mr. Meyrick has described it in the Transactions† as Achœa melicerte, but does not mention Catocala traversi as a synonym. From his description, however, it seems clear they are one and the same, and I have adopted Mr. Meyrick's nomenclature.)
It is now interesting to note that it has occurred somewhat plentifully at Titahi Bay, where, early in March this year, Mr. O'Connor took no less than eight or ten in one day, and saw as many more. He was collecting on a steep hillside shelving down to the beach, over which a fire had some time previously run, destroying most of the scrub but leaving here and there a few isolated bushes. On beating these the moths flew out, and, not knowing it to be such a rarity, he kept only five or six. He tells me that they would fly for fifteen yards or so and then settle, but would be off again on his approach. The day being very bright, this alertness rather points to the fact that they may be diurnal in their habits. A little later in the month he took one specimen at rest in a garden in Wellington.
The occurrence of this moth after being practically unknown for nearly thirty years is a matter of much interest and conjecture.
Utetheisa pulchella, Meyr.
This daintily coloured species has also been taken at Titahi by Mr. O'Connor. In January last he took ten in one day, some being at flower on the white rata, and the others he netted in the tussock-grass. He states that it has a feeble flight, and is easily captured. This was the only occasion on which he saw it.
The only New Zealand specimen I have seen is in Mr. Hudson's collection, and was taken by him at Wainuiomata in 1886. A specimen was taken at Petone by the late Mr. Norris; and these, I believe, until now, are the only local captures.
[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. ix., p. 459.
[Footnote] † Vol. xix., p. 37.