The steam train, the beetle and the puriri moth

(Disclaimer: After tackling DOC cuts and water pollution this week, I thought it was time for a bit of Friday frivolity.)

This week I bought a new car. I know, shocking isn't it that the "greenie" drives a car! (For the record, I also shave my armpits and don't wear a hemp suit.) Seriously though, with a lifestyle that has me living 45 minutes out of the city, it's just too far for cycling (plus, unlike my blogger colleague Moata, who is a keen cyclist, I'm cursed with severe uncoordination issues).

We live across from the railway lines, and I would LOVE to be able to take the train to work every day, but it seems trains aren't really a priority these days. I could take the Weka Pass Railway, but it only goes up to Waikari and back and only twice a month, and the boss might not appreciate that kind of work attendance. 

Living close to the railway has turned me into a bit of a trainspotter! I  have waved daily at the passengers on the Overlander heading back and forth from Christchurch to Picton, and I can tell now by the time of day whether it's a freight or a passenger train going past. The other day, we were treated to the view of a beautiful old steam engine, the "Nigel Bruce", which headed north on its own, and came back towing carriages full of passengers a day or two later. It was a real treat to see (and hear!). Chugga chugga toot toot and all that. My stepbrother pointed out it runs on coal, which is true, but I prefer to think it runs on rainbows.


The Nigel Bruce visiting Kaikoura this week (photo: Whalewatch)

But I digress...

So a new car it is. I was just bursting to tell you all and since this is a nature blog, I'll get to the wildlife-related segue soon, but for now, back to the wheels! I've had a few cars in my life. The first was a Morris 1100 (Moriarty) with roof racks and that fantastic hydrolastic suspension that meant you could almost get air driving over the railway tracks on the way to school. 

After Moriarty came Yoda (the Toyota), then Clarry (another Toyota) and then a Nissan Pulsar that I bought when Clarry died, and didn't particularly "feel the love" for it, though it was a reliable wee car.  All of these cars have been hand-me-downs or someone else helped in the choosing.

All I really ever wanted to drive was a VW Beetle. When I was a teenager looking around for cars my father (a mechanic by trade) put his foot down and said no (parts too hard to get and expensive, he reckoned). When the new Beetles came out, I thought they were fantastic, but they were always waaaay out of my price range. Plus, I didn't want just any VW Beetle, I wanted the pale green one. Imagine my surprise after months searching on Trademe when I found the car, for a reasonable price in my colour!

So there she is in all her pale-green glory, and it is for this reason that I have dubbed her Puriri.

Now for the nature bit. 

Puriri moths are New Zealand's largest native moth - with a wingspan of 15cm (they are sometimes mistaken for bats they are so large!). Puriri moths are creatures with an amazing life history. The puriri caterpillar lives inside a range of tree species (including eucalyptus) for up to SEVEN YEARS before emerging as a beautiful moth.

Trees that have become homes to puriri moth larvae have telltale holes in the trunk where the caterpillar emerges from its "7" shaped burrow inside to eat the bark around the edge of the hole. After the caterpillars eventually emerge, tree weta take advantage of the vacant real estate and make homes in the burrows. 

Incidentally putaputaweta (marble-leaf) trees are named for the many weta that take up residence in puriri caterpillar burrows as the caterpillars consider these trees to be hot property. A single marbleleaf tree can be infested with many puriri caterpillars at once and eventually becomes high-rise accommodation for tree weta.

After seven years living in a hole in a tree-trunk, it seems a bit unfair that the puriri moth only lives for two days as a winged insect. It doesn't even have mouthparts in its moth phase - its only purpose is for breeding. The puriri moths can emerge at any time of the year, but especially from October to December. Like the bittern, the puriri moth is another one of our native creatures I still haven't seen yet. For now, I'll just have to make do with this neat video of one emerging from a tree trunk burrow by those patient folk at Nga Manu Nature Reserve in Waikanae.

Have you ever seen a puriri moth? Where was it and what did you think?

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