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Aotearoa’s Invertebrate Stamps

Figure 1 Definitive group low values copy

Aotearoa is home to over 20000 species of insects and spiders. This summer the Entomological Society of New Zealand has organised Aotearoa/New Zealand’s first ‘Bug of the Year’ competition, hoping to raise their profile and reputation with the country’s human population. You can participate by visiting the website:, which includes images and information. Voting is open now and will stay open until 13 February, with the winner the bug with the most votes –announced on 14 February 2023. 

The Bug of the Year organisers started small – there are just 24 nominees this year – but even so, that is about the same as the total number of invertebrate species that have ever featured on New Zealand’s postage stamps. It is hard to understand why. 

One hundred and fifteen years after the first ‘Full Face Queen’ postage stamps were issued, the 1970 definitive set[1] containing depictions of six moths and butterflies appeared. (Figure 1)  

Figure 1 Definitive group low values
Figure 1 – The first six low-value stamps from the 1970 definitive set 

Another 23 years elapsed before a Conservation issue featured a giant wētā, a giant snail (Figure 2and a tusked wētā (Figure 3), and at about the same time a set of five butterflies was released, followed by a block of 10 ‘Creepy Crawlies’ in 1997. Most recently, a 2020 issue featured our native Daphne moths. 

Figure 1 WWF Conservation issue4
Figure 2 – Stamps from the 1993 World Wildlife Fund for Nature Conservation issue block

Figure 2 WWF tusked weta2
Figure 3 – Mercury Island tusked wētā from the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Conservation issue booklet 

The first six low-value stamps from the 1970 definitives feature butterflies and moths. (Figure 1)  . The 1/2c shows the glade copper butterfly which is common in summer flying close to the ground in waste or open spaces. 

The 1/2c shows the glade copper butterfly which is common in summer flying close to the ground in waste or open spaces. 

The red admiral butterfly which appears on the 1c stamp is an extremely striking species found during summer. 

The 2c stamp depicts a tussock butterfly found only in the tussock country of the South Island. 

A handsome night moth with sharply contrasting wing colours, the magpie, found on the 2 1/2c stamp, is often mistaken for a butterfly. It feeds on cinerarias and groundsel in urban areas and ragwort in farming areas. 

The 3c stamp showing a lichen moth is found in forested areas most frequently in the South Island. 

The pūriri moth on the 4c stamp is the largest native moth in New Zealand; its females having a wingspan of up to 15 cm. It is a clumsy flyer, often damaging itself, and its caterpillar is a wood borer commonly found in the heartwood of many native trees. 

Figure 5 Higher value butterflies
Figure 4 – The 1991 and 1995 Butterfly issue contains
five high-value stamps

The $1 stamp shows a vividly coloured forest ringlet which lives in forested localities in the North Island and the north of the South Island.  Its favourite food plants are forest sedges and snow grasses. 

The southern blue butterfly appears on the $2 stamp and is among the smallest and most abundant. It prefers warm, dry places less than 1000m above sea level.  It flies just above ground level. 

The $3 stamp depicts the yellow admiral, which is found throughout New Zealand. It prefers wastelands and gardens where stinging nettles are established. It is a strong flyer often seen with the larger red admiral. 

The common copper butterfly features on the $4 stamp and is found only in New Zealand. It feeds off the Muehlenbeckia creeper and will often be found where that plant grows as well as in coastal areas and open spaces. 

The $5 stamp shows the red admiral butterfly, which is found throughout New Zealand during summer. Its favoured food is native stinging nettle, but it can also be seen feeding from the sap of tree bark. 

Figure 6 1997 booklet
Figure 5 – The 1997 booklet sheet contains ten 40c stamps featuring “Creepy Crawlies”

The giant tā is found only in New Zealand and is probably the oldest and most physically unchanged insect in the world. Despite their fierce appearance, they are helpless to protect themselves against rats and cats. For this reason, they are mainly found on small offshore islands, including Stephens Island and Great Barrier Island. 

The giant land snail, like many of the invertebrates endemic to New Zealand, is an ancient species originating about 200 million years ago. They live deep in the calcium-rich soils of the forests in the southern part of the North Island and the northern part of the South Island. They can grow up to 10cm in diameter and live for up to 40 years. 

The peripatus, like the tuatara, have an ancient lineage. Their soft bodies are segmented like worms, and yet they have antennae and claws like insects. The greyish-blue is the most common of the five species in New Zealand.  It can be up to 60mm in length, has 15 pairs of legs, and is widespread in both main islands. 

The giant dragonfly, with its sleek black and yellow fuselage’ and a wingspan of 100-120mm is an impressive flying insect. It is agile and rapid when airborne, darting swiftly in search of prey and using its enormous eyes to search for insects. After pinpointing its target, it closes in and grasps its prey with its legs. 

The pūririmoth, illustrated in the 1970 definitives, was also part of the Creepy Crawlies issue. 

There are about 40 different species of cicada in New Zealand, and they live in a diverse range of habitats from lowland tussock scrub, forest, and riverbanks to stony outcrops and alpine scree.  The high-pitched vibrato of the chorus cicada (the most common species) is produced by the male of a species to attract a mate. 

The flax weevil was widespread but is now found only in ‘rat-free’ satellite islands. Their lives revolve around the harakeke plant, which is their only source of food. Young larvae feed from the fleshy base of the plant while adults feed from the young leaves. 

The giant veined slug is one of 25 varieties found in New Zealand. These molluscs can grow up to 150mm long and most species live on the ground in rotting logs or leaf litter. 

The katipō spider is known for its large, round abdomen and distinctive markingsared or orange stripe running down the female’s back and bright orange diamonds, together with black and white stripes, on the male’s abdomen. The katipō is rarely found more than 100m from the sea and is New Zealand’s only poisonous insect. 

New Zealand’s largest endemic beetle, the huhu, can vary in length from 25 to 50 mm.  It has long, jointed feelers and hard, embossed wings that have a pattern similar to veins on a leaf. Dead and dying wood is its favourite diet, and it has been known to give a sharp nip when handled. 


[1] Definitive postage stamps are issued in a full range of the denominations intended for use on all classes of mail. Unlike commemorative stamps, which are issued for fixed periods in limited quantities, definitives are usually issued in indefinite quantities and are used over longer periods of time.