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Volume 37, 1904
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Art. XXX.—Notes on the Entomology of Mount Holdsworth, Tararua Range.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 1st June, 1904.]

During the middle of February of this year I spent, in company with my wife, a fortnight in the vicinity of Mount Holdsworth. The object of this and two previous expeditions undertaken by me was to investigate the insect fauna of this well-known range of mountains; and, although the results at present arrived at cannot be regarded as complete, it is perhaps desirable that they should be placed on record, more especially as, so far as I am aware, the Tararuas have not yet been visited by other entomologists.

The Tararua Range is, of course, very familiar to all residents in Wellington, its snow-capped summits, which close in the head of the Hutt Valley, being a most beautiful and conspicuous feature in the landscape in winter-time. These peaks constitute the southern portion of the range, and Mount Holdsworth, which is situated further to the north, is hidden by them. The range is best approached from the other side—i.e., from the Wairarapa—and intending visitors should take the early train to either Carterton or Masterton, and thence proceed by trap to the junction of the Waingawa and Mangatariri Rivers. From this point there is a fair road for about four miles up the latter river, and a good camping-ground may be found at the termination of the road. To adequately explore the mountain it is necessary to make a permanent camp here, so that suitable weather may be selected for the ascent, as the summit of the mountain is nearly always enveloped in cloud. This is no doubt due to the fact that this range is situated in the centre of the southern portion of the North Island, and, being the highest land in the neighbourhood, attracts large quantities of cloud whenever there is the slightest atmospheric disturbance. In fact, much cloud is attracted with any wind, either north-west or south-east. For entomological or viewing purposes, the mountain should not be attempted except during the passage of the crest of an anti-cyclone—i.e., when the barometer is at its highest at the termination of a southerly wind, before the change to the north-west, the sky being, of course, absolutely clear at the time.

I have dwelt at some length on the meteorological aspect of the question, as it is a most important one. In fact, on two previous visits which I made to this locality, both a week in duration, I was unable to ascend the mountain, and the expeditions were almost fruitless in result, owing to unfavourable weather conditions,

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although at the time the weather in other places would have been fairly satisfactory for entomological work.

From the above-described camping-ground at the end of the road, the top of the mountain may be reached after about six hours' hard climbing. The time and labour now necessary could, however, be reduced by at least one-half were a satisfactory track made through the bush, and this could no doubt be done for a very small sum. In the interests of botanists, entomologists, and others, it is surely possible that something may be done in this direction, when the exceptionally fine view which may be obtained from this mountain, its extreme richness in alpine plants, and its proximity to Wellington are all taken into account. Some steps ought to be taken to render such an interesting locality more readily accessible, and, in default of other means, a portion of the Research Fund of this Society might perhaps be so employed in thus aiding original biological research in the wilds of New Zealand.

The ascent of the mountain is not severe, the sole difficulty in the undertaking being due to the dense bush and undergrowth. There have been bush-fires from time to time at several points on the track, which have greatly increased this difficulty, and it is in these places that the track is so extremely difficult to follow. These fires in forest reserves, such as this, are much to be regretted, and any persons lighting such fires ought to be very severely punished. The land here is quite unsuitable for settlement, and hence the ranges have, I understand, been very wisely set aside as a forest reserve. The reserve is reached about one mile beyond the termination of the road, and at this point the Mangatariri River has to be forded. This is easily accomplished in fine weather, and, whilst fording, a beautiful view of a primeval forest stream of the purest water may be obtained. The track continues alongside the stream through very fine forest for about another mile, when an ascent of about 1,000 ft. brings us to what is called the “lower camp,” which is situated in the midst of wrecked bush, the site of what has evidently been one of the most disastrous fires on Mount Holdsworth. After this is passed the track passes for another mile through subalpine bush, 2,500 ft. There is a beautiful carpet of native grasses, and the trees are profusely festooned with long pendant mosses. For the next mile or so the track descends about 300 ft., traversing a broad swampy spur covered with low brushwood, chiefly manuka and birch. The vegetation is, however, largely subalpine, the mountain kiki and many grasses and mosses being frequently met with. At the end of this spur the “upper camp” is reached, which is situated at an elevation of about 2,300 ft., and is at the foot of the steep spur which leads to the summit of the mountain.

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After this the track is very steep, and at about 3,800 ft. the birch-trees, which have become, as usual, very gnarled and stunted and thickly covered with lichens and mosses, suddenly end, and the open grassy country of the high mountain is reached, this elevation apparently representing the usual line of permanent snow.

I have seldom seen a mountain so richly covered with alpine plants as Mount Holdsworth, and I feel satisfied that it would be a locality of extreme interest to a botanist. Amongst many others, I observed the following familiar plants in great profusion: Mountain - lily (Ranunculus insignis?), spear - grass (Aciphylla squarrosa and A. colensoi or allied species), various species of Celmisia, &c. The only introduced plant I noticed was the “cape-weed” (Hypochœris), which was in profusion at about 4,000 ft. The exceptionally efficient means of dispersal with which its seeds are endowed no doubt explains its appearance so high on the mountain.

From the bush-line to the top of the mountain the distance is about three miles, and the ascent is very easy. The view obtained from the top is very fine, embracing Mount Egmont to the north-west, the Island of Kapiti, the Straits, and a considerable part of the northern portion of the South Island, including Mount Tapuaenuku, to the west, the opposite side of the ranges which close in the head of the Hutt Valley could be recognised to the south, and the long, low ranges of hills on the east coast, and beyond these the ocean could clearly be seen.

During my visit I made two successful ascents of Mount Holdsworth. On one occasion the weather was absolutely perfect, on the other somewhat cloudy and too cool for many insects to be about. It was, however, evident that I was too late in the season for many of the high alpine species, so that further visits are necessary earlier in the year, and the second week in January would probably be about the best time to find the greatest number of species.

I specially looked out for the two mountain butterflies, Erebia pluto and Erebia butleri, but could see nothing of them, and feel sure that, had they been present, some specimens would have been in evidence. I should mention, in support of this contention, that these butterflies are found as late as the middle of March on the mountains in the South Island, where they occur. I was not, however, altogether surprised at the absence of these insects, as they have never yet been recorded from the North Island. The same remarks apply to Argyrophenga antipodum, which is exclusively an alpine butterfly in the provinces of Nelson and Marlborough, but is found abundantly elsewhere in the South Island, both on mountains and in tussock country.

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I was, however, much more surprised in not finding any species of Crambus or Orocrambus on Mount Holdsworth, and do not think that the total absence of both these genera, which are characteristic of all the mountains I have ever visited in the South Island, can be explained by the lateness of the season, though future visits must definitely determine this. In connection with the distribution of these forms, it would be interesting to know whether geologists have yet determined the northern limit of general glaciation in New Zealand. The absence of these characteristic alpine insects from the Tararuas may perhaps have some bearing on this question, as without the glaciation of the intervening lowlands such species might not have been able to travel from the mountains of the South Island to those of the North Island. The Tararua Range is an important one in connection with this inquiry, as it is the nearest high mountain-range to the South Island.

I will now give a list of the more interesting species observed on Mount Holdsworth and in its neighbourhood, with some special remarks on the rarer species met with. It must, however, be clearly understood that this list does not claim to be an exhaustive one, but subject to revision when the locality has been more adequately worked by entomologists.


Vanessa gonerilla.

This butterfly was very abundant on Mount Holdsworth, from the bush-line to the summit. The specimens were very large, and in perfect condition. They, however, exhibited no divergence from the usual type.

Chrysophanus salustius.

A few specimens seen in the Mangatariri Valley.

C. boldenarum.

A distinct variety of this insect occurs in river-beds on the Wairarapa Plain.

Lycœna phœbe.

Mangatariri River; sparingly.

Nyctemera annulata.

Two specimens of this very common insect occurred on Mount Holdsworth at 4,000 ft. Had they not been actually netted, they might readily have been mistaken for one of the Erebias, and reported as such.

Leucania griseipennis.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Rare.

L. purdii.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Three specimens only.

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L. atristriga.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Extremely abundant.

L. unipuncta.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Rare.

Melanchra insignis.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Rare.

M. plena.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Three specimens only. Not quite typical.

M. vitiosa.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. One only.

M. composita.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Not so common as usual.

M. ustistriga.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. A few only.

M. lignana.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. Common.

Bityla defigurata.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River. One only.

Cosmodes elegans.

One superb specimen, amongst grass near camp. I have not taken this species previously.

Tatosoma agrionata.

One specimen, in forest. Probably too late for this insect.

T. lestevata.

I secured a magnificent female specimen of this extremely rare species at “sugar” on 26th February; my other two specimens, both males, were taken, one at Nelson in 1885, and one at Wainuiomata in 1887. There are two specimens in the collection of the late Mr. R. W. Fereday, now in the Christchurch Museum. I am not aware of any others.

Elvia glaucata.

One specimen, in forest. Passed.

Hydriomena subochraria.

Very common in the Mangatariri Valley. This species is characteristic of the locality, as it is not a generally common species.

Asthena pulchraria.

In forest. A few specimens. Passed.

A. schistaria.

In forest. A few specimens. Passed.

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Venusia undosata.

One specimen seen. Passed.

Asaphodes megaspilata.

Common as usual.

Xanthorhoe semifissata.

A few seen. Passed.

X. clarata.

Two specimens taken on Mount Holdsworth at 4,000 ft. Passed.

X. beata.

In forest. Passed.

X. œgrota.

One specimen only. Mangatariri River.

X. cinerearia.

Common as usual.

Dasyuris partheniata.

This fine and conspicuous insect was very abundant on Mount Holdsworth from 3,800 ft. to 5,000 ft.

Notoreas mechanitis.

Several taken on Mount Holdsworth at about 4,500 ft.

N. paradelpha.

Several taken on Mount Holdsworth at about 4,500 ft.

N. omichlias.

Extremely abundant on Mount Holdsworth from 3,800 ft. to 5,000 ft. This was much the commonest insect seen. It is a rare species on the mountains in the South Island.

N. brephos.

Some very small and vividly marked specimens were captured by Mrs. Hudson, in the river-bed of the Mangatariri.

Epirranthis alectoraria.

One specimen, at “sugar.”

Leptomeris rubraria.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

Selidosema fenerata.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

S. rudiata.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

S. suavis.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

S. productata.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River, and in birch forest up to 3,000 ft. A white variety of the female taken at “sugar.”

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S. melinata.

Common as usual. Mangatariri Valley.

S. panagrata.

Common as usual. Mangatariri Valley.

S. dejectaria.

Common as usual. Mangatariri Valley.

Sestra humeraria.

Common in forest as usual.

Gonophylla fortinata.

One specimen, in forest.

Declana floccosa.

Common as usual.

Crambus ramosellus.

Common as usual. Mangatariri and Waingawa Rivers.

C. flexuosellus.

Common as usual. Mangatariri and Waingawa Rivers.

C. vitellus.

Common as usual. Mangatariri and Waingawa Rivers.

C. apicellus.

On swampy spur on track to Mount Holdsworth. Common.

C. xanthogrammus.

One specimen taken by Mrs. Hudson, Mangatariri River.

Mecyna marmarina.

A large pale variety of this species was common on Mount Holdsworth from about 3,800 ft. to 4,500 ft.

M. flavidalis.

Common as usual.

Scoparia philerga.

A few worn specimens in forest.

S. acharis.

A few worn specimens in forest.

S. hemicycla.

In stunted birch forest, Mount Holdsworth, 3,600 ft., common, but rather worn; evidently too late for it. This is a rare and interesting species.

S. characta.

One specimen seen at “sugar,” Mangatariri River.

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S. epicomia.

In forest, Mangatariri River.

S. feredayi.

In forest, Mangatariri River. A few only, in poor condition.

S. crypsinoa.

Mount Holdsworth, 4,000 ft. Worn.

S. sabulosella.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

S. steropœa.

One seen. Mangatariri River.

S. astragolota?

Mount Holdsworth, in forest, 3,500 ft.

S. asterisca.

At “sugar,” Mangatariri River.

Nesarcha hybreadalis.

One seen. Mangatariri River.

Musotima aduncalis.

Common as usual. Mangatariri River.

Platyptilia haasti.

On swampy spur track to Mount Holdsworth. Locally common.

Pterophorus lycosemus.

Common in forest, Mangatariri River.

P. monospilalis.

Common in forest, Mangatariri River.

Clepsicosma iridia.

I took two specimens of this species in the dense swampy forest near the Mangatariri River.

Capua semiferana and Noteraula straminea.

Taken commonly by Mrs. Hudson amongst tutu, Mangatariri River.

Adoxophyes conditana.

In forest, Mangatariri River.


Three specimens of this interesting genus occurred on Mount Holdsworth, from 3,600 ft. to 4,000 ft., as usual. These insects were flying very rapidly in the hottest sunshine.

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The following species of Neuroptera were observed. The season was, however, too far advanced for these insects, and a visit earlier in the year would no doubt yield better results. The four common species of dragon-flies were abundant—i.e., Uropetala carovei, Somatochlora smithii, Lestes colensonis, and Xanthagrion zealandicum.

Stenosmylus latiusculus.

I secured seven specimens of this very rare insect at “sugar” in the Mangatariri Valley. They usually appeared singly each night, but the last night I was at the camp I secured four, two of them arriving at the “sugar” after 9 p.m. This species was described by Mr. McLachlan in 1894 from two specimens, one taken at Waitara and the other at Greymouth. I captured my first specimen in the Orongaronga Valley, to the east of Wellington Harbour, in January, 1892, and have not since met with the insect until this year. So far as I am aware, the above include all the captures which have been made.

Œconesus maori.

One specimen, at “sugar,” Mangatariri River.

Polycentropus puerilis.

At light, camp Mangatariri River.

Oniscigaster—– sp.?

One nymph taken in river in January, 1902.


Several species observed.


This order was only worked in a desultory manner.

Mecodema scitulum.

Several specimens taken under stones on lower spurs of Mount Holdsworth, January, 1902. The forest at the foot of the mountain appears poor in beetles, but half an hour's beating yielded a fine anthribid.


Two or three fine species of grasshoppers occurred on Mount Holdsworth at elevations of 3,800 ft. to 5,000 ft., and an interesting stick insect on manuka - bushes at the “lower camp” (2,000 ft.), none of which have yet been determined.