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Tuatara: Volume 15, Issue 2, July 1967

Review — The Butterflies and Common Moths of New Zealand

page 98

The Butterflies and Common Moths of New Zealand

It is to be Hoped that the publication of this book will stimulate the nearly extinct race of amateur moth-hunters in New Zealand to take up their nets and light-traps. The aim of Mr Gaskin's much-needed work is to acquaint beginners with the common species and to provide the student and collector with a means of identifying the bulk of the species taken on collecting trips.

Chapters in the first section of the book describe the general features of moths and butterflies, their life histories and classification, and the methods of collecting and preparing specimens. The details are of great value to students and to those starting out to make an insect collection, and are told in an entertaining fashion.

In the second section the author has ‘attempted the impossible’ (his own words) by endeavouring to construct a simple key for identification of all species included in the book. All our butterflies are covered and about 180 species of the commoner moths or those ‘most likely to be taken in a normal year's collecting’. This represents about 12 per cent of the known species of moths, omitting virtually all the ‘micros’ and concentrating on the larger forms. I found the key satisfactory for butterflies but rather heavy going for the moths, although no doubt it would become easier as one became more familiar with it. Colour and pattern are the main factors used, but it is necessary to consult wing venation in most cases. The major problems with a key of this sort are the extreme colour variations in many New Zealand moth species and the fact that only selected species are represented in the key. Thus one can never be sure whether one has an atypical specimen or whether it is a species omitted from the key. All specimens covered by the book are illustrated with photographs, the butterflies and pest species of moths being in colour, the other moths in black and white. These illustrations could be extremely useful in conjunction with the key, but unfortunately the reproduction of the black and white plates is so poor that many are almost useless. The darker species have suffered most. The colour plates are better, although the specimens are reduced to about half-size.

Each species is given a short, non-technical description followed by its known distribution and notes on the life history. Unfortunately there is no cross reference given on the plates to enable one to find the description. The author has allocated a ‘common name’ to each species, similar to those used in Great Britain. These can be quite lengthy as in ‘the Pale Black-waved Brown Moth’. Moreover, many of the names do not conform to those given by the authors of other recent books, or cited in the ‘Standard names for Common Insects’ published by the Entomological Society of New Zealand.

An appendix lists the full classification of the species described in the book, and there is a good reference section. In spite of the poor quality of the illustrations, this book will be a valuable acquisition for all those who are interested in New Zealand Insects.

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