Big beasties lift awareness

GERMARI HERSELMAN
Last updated 08:55 10/06/2014
Alex Williams
GERMARI HERSELMAN
LOCAL HEROES: Stephen McCarthy handcrafted this Blumine Island snail replica as well as the yellow admiral butterfly behind him for Marlborough Museum.

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Two larger than life versions of Marlborough's smallest residents have found a home at Marlborough Museum.

Stephen McCarthy, of Woodstock in Tasman district, has made and donated massive replicas of the Blumine Island snail and yellow admiral butterfly to the museum.

The two giants will join real examples of the tiny critters in the museum's Wild Things display.

Marlborough Museum chief executive Steve Austin said the museum hoped to raise awareness about the rare species.

"The yellow admiral butterfly is native to New Zealand and very special to Marlborough, but they are in decline and the lack of stinging nettles is a big problem."

The caterpillars are completely reliant on nettle plants, and prefer exotic nettles to the native ones.

The yellow admiral butterfly or kahu kowhai is similar to the more common red admiral. They both prefer to live in open areas, but will live wherever there are nettles on which to lay their eggs.

McCarthy said wasps, especially the paper wasp, pose a major risk.

"The wasps attack the caterpillars and have been seen attacking pupating caterpillars, too."

The monarch butterfly has faced the same difficulty, but people were more aware of their decline and had planted swan plants, he said. It was a different story to get families to plant prickly stinging nettles in their gardens.

The Blumine Island reserve in Marlborough Sounds is home to New Zealand's largest grouping of the endangered giant native snail, Powelliphanta hochstetteri bicolour. Blumine Island's snails are considered safest due to the lack of predators on the island.

McCarthy has done work for The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Nelson Provincial Museum. He was happy to recreate the creatures in polystyrene for Marlborough Museum.

"I've always collected shells, frogs and beetles growing up, so making one this size was a lot of fun," he said.

The museum is running a "Name the snail" competition in June, with free entry for children and families.

The competition closes July 20 and the winner will be announced on July 21.

"Help us name Marlborough's biggest native land snail," Austin said. germari.herselman@mex.co.nz

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- The Marlborough Express

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