Common name: Pūriri moth, pepetuna (adult), mokoroa (caterpillar)
Order: Lepidoptera Family: Hepalidae
Size: Up to 15cm (wingspan)
The pepetuna, found only in the North Island, is both New Zealand’s largest native moth and its largest caterpillar (up to 12cm). When they first hatch, the small caterpillars live on the underside of bracket fungi. After a few months they moult into a larger caterpillar which will bore a tunnel shaped like the number “7” into trees (such as pūriri). They may spend spend up to five years living and feeding inside the tree. This does cause damage to the tree which can be made worse if predators such as the North Island Kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis) start digging into the tree to get to the caterpillars. Despite being such a magnificent and curious insect, we know very little about the role pūriri moths play in native ecosystems and how the caterpillars might be affecting their host trees!
When they finally pupate and exit the tunnel (most commonly in spring), the adults have no working mouth parts and need to find a mate within one to two days before they die of starvation. Hirini Melbourne composed a short waiata about the pūriri moth flying in the night.
Gibbs, G. (accessed 3 November 2016) ‘Insects – overview – In the bush’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/10073/male-puriri-moth
Martin NA. (2010, revised 2016). Puriri moth – Aenetus virescens. Interesting Insects and other Invertebrates. New Zealand Arthropod Factsheet Series Number 13. Retrieved from http://nzacfactsheets.landcareresearch.co.nz/Index.html.