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Celebrating New Zealand’s Bug of the Year: How to Turn Your Garden into a Haven for the Red Admiral Butterfly

NZ Votes the Red Admiral Butterfly ‘Bug of the Year’ – How to Make Your Garden Its Home

In a heartwarming nod to Valentine’s Day spirit, New Zealanders have cast their votes, naming the red admiral butterfly as their beloved ‘Bug of the Year’. Garnering a whopping 2,275 votes out of nearly 17,000, this vividly colored butterfly has flown to the top, surpassing other contenders in what has become an annual celebration of the nation’s unique invertebrates. Following closely in the competition were the Mt Arthur giant wētā, the ngāokeoke (velvet worm), and the enchanting titiwai (glowworm), each receiving thousands of votes and showcasing the biodiversity that New Zealand proudly harbors.

New Zealand’s rich tapestry of over 20,000 terrestrial invertebrate species is a testament to the ecological uniqueness of the islands. From the subtle beauty of secretive velvet worms to the majestic allure of carnivorous land snails, the diversity is staggering. Despite this, many New Zealanders are still unfamiliar with the breadth of bug life thriving in their own backyards – a gap that events like the ‘Bug of the Year’ aim to bridge.

Unveiling the Mystique of Moths and Butterflies

The red admiral, or kahukura, stands out with its striking red and black wings, an ode to its divine namesake in Maori culture, which can be likened to the top bow of a double rainbow. Distinct from its relative, the yellow admiral, this butterfly is exclusive to New Zealand, adding to the natural treasures found nowhere else in the world.

A fascinating aspect of New Zealand’s ecology is the presence of over 2,000 species of lepidoptera, the order encompassing both butterflies and moths, with the vast majority being endemic to the country. Contrary to common perceptions, the distinctions between what we call butterflies and moths blur upon closer inspection, with many so-called moths displaying day activity and vibrant patterns similar to their butterfly counterparts.

These insects play a vital role in pollination and form an essential link in the food chain, emphasizing the need for their conservation.

Transforming Gardens into Butterfly Sanctuaries

The diminishing sighting of red admirals calls for a conscious effort to make our gardens more welcoming for butterflies. Incorporating diverse, nectar-rich flowers can significantly boost pollinator health and, consequently, the ecosystem at large. Gardens can serve as vital havens not only for butterflies but for a multitude of pollinating insects, contributing to biodiversity and environmental health.

In support of butterfly conservation, the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust provides guidance on fostering suitable habitats. A critical factor for lepidoptera is the availability of specific host plants for caterpillar development. While the monarch butterfly’s dependence on milkweed is well-known, native species like Muehlenbeckia are crucial for the growth and survival of many native butterfly and moth species.

Research underscores the preference of red admirals for native nettles to lay eggs, suggesting a potentially significant factor in their dwindling numbers. Ongaonga, or tree nettle, despite its notorious sting, has been identified as an ideal host, suggesting a need to balance its presence with human safety.

Protecting Our Pollinators

The journey towards creating insect-friendly spaces also involves addressing broader threats like habitat loss, food scarcity, and pesticide use stemming from urbanization, deforestation, and agricultural intensification. Native insects also face predation from invasive species like vespula wasps and rodents, though community efforts in predator control have shown promise in protecting these native populations.

Embracing a lifestyle and gardening habits that support invertebrate conservation is a step toward ensuring the survival and flourishing of New Zealand’s unique bug species. From specific planting strategies to predator management, every action counts in making our backyards a sanctuary for these vital creatures.

Whether you’re a seasoned entomologist or just beginning to appreciate the intricate world of bugs, it’s clear that our collective efforts can make a significant difference in the preservation of these essential members of our ecosystem. Let’s invite these winged wonders into our gardens and watch as they thrive, contributing to the ecological harmony that defines New Zealand.

Ava Bloom

Ava Bloom is an eco-influencer and sustainability coach who has transformed her commitment to a zero-waste lifestyle into a catalyst for change. Through her engaging social media presence and hands-on workshops, Ava teaches the beauty and feasibility of sustainable living. Her journey is one of continuous learning and sharing, from eco-friendly home practices to advocating for sustainable fashion. Ava's articles are a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and motivational insights, empowering readers to make small changes that have a big impact on our planet.

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