Common name: Puriri moth
Scientific name: Aenetus virescens
Māori name: Pepetuna (adult), mokoroa (caterpillar)
Size: Up to 15cm (wingspan)
Habitat: Native forest, nocturnal
New Zealand’s biggest native moth, these giants spend six years as caterpillars living in tunnels in native trees (such as pūriri). Here, they feed on the inner bark, safe from predators such as the North Island Kaka (Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis).
When they finally pupate and exit the tunnel in Spring, the adults have no working mouthparts and need to find a mate within one to two days before they die of starvation.
They are also New Zealand’s largest caterpillar (up to 12cm) and were used as bait by Māori fishing for eels who would pour water into the tunnels (which are shaped like a “7”) to get at the caterpillars. Hence the adult moths are “pepetuna” (“pepe” meaning moth and “tuna” meaining “eel”) while the larvae are “mokoroa” (“moko”- caterpillar; “roa” – long).
Despite being such a magnificent and curious insect, we know every little about the role pūriri moths play in native ecosystems and how the caterpillars might be affecting their host trees!