'World first' as camera catches moth emerging

00:28, Dec 09 2009
OUT OF THE WOODWORK: An elusive puriri moth is finally caught  emerging from  its burrow in a tree,  after three years of  photographic experimenting.
OUT OF THE WOODWORK: An elusive puriri moth is finally caught emerging from its burrow in a tree, after three years of photographic experimenting.

A Puriri moth has been captured on film hatching from a chrysalis at a Waikanae nature reserve in what is believed to be a world first.

Nga Manu Nature Reserve director Peter McKenzie has spent three years trying to reveal the reclusive life of New Zealand's largest forest moth and has finally captured a moth hatching from a burrow in a putaputaweta (marbleleaf) tree at the reserve.

The grub lives in a tree trunk burrow for five to six years, only to die 48 hours after emerging as a spectacular moth with a wingspan of up to 15 centimetres.

Earlier this year, with the assistance of Raumati vet Andrea Wilson, Mr McKenzie X–rayed a puriri grub in a burrow in a section of putaputaweta trunk.

The puriri is a member of the ghost moth family and a Dominion Post article about the X–ray prompted a United States ghost moth expert, Buffalo Museum of Science director John Grehan, to contact Mr McKenzie saying he was astounded by the images.

He was even more excited by photos taken on Saturday night of the moth hatching.

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The 1hr 40min hatching was caught on camera after three years of experimenting with photographic techniques, a few false starts and a little bad luck.

"It hatched out of the chrysalis very quickly," Mr McKenzie said.

"I have been checking my cameras regularly over the past three years, was outsmarted constantly by the moth but have finally got the photo, it is pretty cool," he said.

The camera, automatically set to take a photo every 10 minutes, missed the moment when the moth flew away.

Describing the photos as "outstanding", Dr Grehan said he believed it was the first time a puriri moth, or even any ghost moth, had been captured on film emerging from a chrysalis.

"The photos are outstanding. This is not only a first (in terms of sequence the whole way through the emergence) for wood-boring ghost moths, but may be a first for any ghost moth," Dr Grehan said.

Puriri moths are found in North Island forests and although they are relatively common, there is very little documented evidence of their life cycles. "The photos have advanced the knowledge of their life cycles," Mr McKenzie said.

The Dominion Post