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Milestone met for moth project at Otago Museum

The Otago Museum, in collaboration with Landcare Research, is in the middle of a significant moth data collection project, working towards painting a broad picture of its expansive moth collection.

The Museum holds one of New Zealand’s most accurately documented and regionally comprehensive collections of moths, assembled by former Otago Museum Collections and Research Manager Brian Patrick. Each moth within this collection has been named, and each record includes data on where it was collected, when and by whom.

The project will capture and digitise the data of over 23,000 specimens including three families of moth – Ghost moths (Hepialidae), Geometer moths (Geometridae) and Owlet moths (Noctuidae). Late last month, the project team celebrated the completion of data basing the 2,212 specimens that make up the Hepialidae family data set, and has since moved on to the smaller Geometridae moth specimens.


Moth Data capture with Emily blog image


Landcare Research ecologist Dr Barbara Anderson said the data will provide a snapshot of moth distribution 20–30 years ago, enabling her to monitor changes in the environment by comparing this to current field surveys.

“Generally short life-cycles and good mobility make moths sensitive indicators of environmental change and we have the ability to collect standardised quantitative data about them,” says Dr Anderson.

“Moths occupy a sweet spot within the ecosystem: the caterpillars eat plants, the adults act as pollinators and their numbers make them an important food source for many native birds and spiders. Thus moths are ideal candidates for ecological monitoring and this database represents a wealth of information that we are sorely lacking in New Zealand.” 

Landcare Research scientist and New Zealand lepidopterist Robert Hoare visited the Museum’s Natural Science collection last week, lending a hand to reorganise the collection of Noctuid moths (8,431 specimens) into their most up-to-date taxonomic classification before they receive the same data transcription and cataloguing process.

“Undertaking a project of this scale and scope will produce invaluable insights for future studies,” says Otago Museum Curator, Natural Science, Emma Burns.

“Cracking a collection data set this large will be a significant achievement for the Museum’s Natural Science team, and one that we are pleased to be collaborating on with experts at Landcare Research.


Blog A mamoth amount of moths


The Patrick entomology collection brings with it valuable historical data that helps build a clearer picture of New Zealand’s ecological past and a stronger, evidence-based understanding of how things have changed. This is the value of museums housing large research collections.”


The project in numbers:

1: Enormous moth collection – The Brian Patrick Collection

2: Dunedin partners – Otago Museum and Landcare Research

3: Moth families being transcribed, reclassified, catalogued

25: Week goal to complete the project

30%: Proportion of the Otago Museum’s entire Lepidoptera collection that will be databased at the end of this project

46: Number of years since Brian Patrick started collecting

1,395: Estimated number of staff hours to digitise these three families from the collection

2,212: Ghost moths (Hepialidae) specimens completed

8,431: Owlet moths (Noctuidae) to be reclassified by Robert Hoare so they can be transcribed into the database

12,900: Geometer moths (Geometridae) – the largest group the Otago Museum is attempting

23,453: Total number of moth specimens that will have the individual field collection information databased this year.