Native NZ Butterflies

Red Admiral/kahukura (Vanessa gonerilla)

Red Admiral. Photo: Rob Jones.

Red Admiral. Photo: Rob Jones.

The Red Admiral/kahukura is unique to NZ i.e. it is only found only here. The endemic New Zealand Red Admiral resembles the European red admiral (Vanessa atalanta). The Māori name, kahukura, means “red cloak” or “red garment”, likely referring to the striking red patches on its wings.

The Red Admiral is typically a forest butterfly, but it can live in more open habitats wherever there are stinging nettles which is a key food source for its caterpillars. Although seen almost anywhere, they are now common only on restricted parts of the South Island and North Island because of the removal of nettles. Adults disperse great distances and visit a variety of flowering plants including lacebark and different species of hebe.

Admirals lay their eggs between September and May, often adjacent to a stinging nettle hair for protection. Their black or reddish-brown caterpillars hatch after a little over a week. Like most butterflies, Admiral caterpillars shed their skin (moult) to grow five times before forming a chrysalis. They often change colour with each moult, mimicking the colours and lighting conditions of their environment, allowing them to remain camouflaged.

As they eat their way through nettle leaves, the caterpillars hide out in protective tents which they create by rolling up leaf-edges and securing them with silk strands. They have ravenous appetites, and can quickly strip all the leaves from a small nettle plant. 

They emerge from their chrysalises as dark butterflies with vibrant red patches, which fade to orange with age. Admirals hatch in spring, summer, and autumn, so they can be seen all year, although they are most common in summer. The butterflies have an erratic flight pattern that often begins with an almost vertical take-off. They love sun, and can often be seen soaking up the warmth with fully open wings.

Wingspan: 50-60mm

Range: Restricted parts of the South Island and North Island because of the removal of nettles, and the Chatham Island. 

Subspecies:

  • New Zealand Red Admiral: Vanessa gonerilla gonerilla (kahukura) which is found in NZ. 
  • Chatham Island Red Admiral, Bassaris gonerilla ida which is found only on the Chatham Islands. 

Yellow Admiral/kahu kowhai (Vanessa itea)

Yellow Admiral. Photo: Jon Mollivan

Yellow Admiral. Photo: Jon Mollivan

Yellow Admirals/kahu kowhai prefer to live in open areas, but, like the Red Admirals/kahukura, they will live wherever there are nettles on which to lay their eggs. They are much more likely to be seen in urban areas than red admirals and they appreciate similar species of flowers.  Their caterpillars are also completely reliant on nettle plants, but actually prefer exotic nettles to the native ones, although they are also quite fond of native New Zealand Scrub Nettles.

The lifecycle of Yellow Admirals is quite similar to that of the Red Admirals, except that they are less common in spring than the Red Admirals because half their population overwinters as larvae which then emerge as butterflies in the autumn.  

Yellow Admiral caterpillars are paler than Red Admiral caterpillars when they emerge, although they too change colour as they moult to match their surroundings. Yellow admirals also have different wing patterns, a less erratic flight pattern and are slightly smaller with than the their red brethren.

Wingspan: 45-55mm. 

Range: New Zealand, Australia,  Norfolk and Loyalty Islands

Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus)

Long tailed blue

Long tailed blue

In New Zealand, long-tailed Blues are self-introduced, naturalised butterflies. They prefer open habitat, although they live wherever larval food plants (particularly various species of legumes including gorse) are growing.

Long-tailed Blue butterflies generally lay their eggs individually on unopened flower buds. When they first hatch, caterpillars are pale yellow, but they quickly turn green or pink-brown. The caterpillars burrow into and eat immature flower buds and seeds. They are opportunists and cannibals, and if they run out of food, they will either pupate early, or eat other caterpillars of their own kind. They are 13-16mm when fully grown. The caterpillars either form chrysalises or pupate inside seed pods. If they pupate in a seed pod, they must wait to emerge until the pod bursts—a wait that can last anywhere between 2 weeks to a year.

Males look fairly different from females, sporting mostly blue upper-wings with brown edges as opposed to the female’s predominately brown wings with blue colouring toward their bodies. Both males and females possess eyespots and tails which they move up and down when resting, creating the appearance of a false head which is thought to distract predators. They usually fly fairly high in the air (over 1m above the ground) and have a rapid, jerky flight pattern. Females generally hang out fairly close to their food plants, while males often venture further away.

Wingspan: 28-30mm. 

Range: They are are found in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and various Pacific Islands.  In New Zealand, they typically reside across Northland, and can be found on the northern South Island, especially around Nelson. 

Other related species : Common Blue, Southern Blue and the endemic Southern Blue (Zizina oxleyi). This occurs on the eastern South Island from North Canterbury south to Central Otago whereas the abundant Common Blue (Zizina labradus) is found along the West Coast, Nelson, Marlborough and throughout the North Island. The caterpillars of both species feed on legumes, especially the introduced clovers and medics, which grow along roadsides and on gravel wasteland and riverbeds.

Rauparaha’s Copper/mokarakare (Lycaena rauparaha)  

Rauparaha's Copper butterflies mating. Photo: Jerome Albre.

Rauparaha's Copper butterflies mating. Photo: Jerome Albre.

Rauparaha’s Copper/mokarakare butterflies acquired their European name, Rauparaha, because they lived along the same coastal regions as Te Rauparaha, a rangatira (chief) and war leader of Ngāti Toa.

They live mainly along coastal dunes, although they can be found wherever their food plants grow. Their caterpillars eat mainly Wire Vine/pohuehue and Creeping pohuehue.

Less is known about their lifecycles than some of New Zealand’s other butterflies. They lay their eggs along the bottom edges of leaves. Their caterpillars are velvety green and move very slowly. Unlike most caterpillars, they pupate on the ground amongst dry leaf litter.  They overwinter in a state of either diapause or quiescence which slows the insect’s metabolic rate, allowing it to survive the colder weather. In Coppers, this is thought to be in part a means of adaptation to the seasonal unavailability of their partially deciduous food plants. Neither Rauparaha’s Copper nor the North Island Glade Copper typically travels more than 20-50 metres from their larval food plants, making it necessary to have plants that both the caterpillars and the butterflies eat near each other.

They usually fly close to the ground with a rapid, jerky flight pattern.

Range: Coastal areas around the North island, as well as the upper South island. 

Wingspan: 24- 31mm

Coastal Copper

Coastal Copper. Photo: Rob Jones.

Coastal Copper. Photo: Rob Jones.

In the wild, Coastal Copper has only been recorded feeding on Pohuehue and Creeping Pohuehue (species of Muehlenbeckia).  The coastal North Island Copper is extremely abundant and widespread in suitable habitat. It is found on sand-dunes and rocky coasts wherever large patches of Muehlenbeckia grow. They can be found on Waiheke Island, Bethells Beach,   Bastion Point, Wenderholm and little Huia.  They are abundant from late October through till April.

Glade Copper/Pepe Para Riki (Lycaena feredayi)

Glade Copper. Photo: Jerome Albre

Glade Copper. Photo: Jerome Albre

Glade Coppers/Pepe Para Riki are native New Zealand butterflies usually found in forest glades, gullies, and along waterways, but they will live wherever larval food plants are present. They range from South of Auckland to the Western side of the North Island, and can be found throughout the South Island. Their only recorded larval food plant is the Large-leafed Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis) although it is likely caterpillars will eat other species of Pohuehue as well. Like Rauparaha’s Coppers, adult Glade Coppers don’t typically travel more than 50 metres from their larval food plants.

When glade coppers hatch they are yellow-green, but quickly turn leaf-green with small white spots and reddish hairs. They grow up to 14mm. Glade Coppers eat the same partially deciduous food plants as Rauparaha’s Coppers and are thought to slow their metabolic rate over winter. Unlike New Zealand’s other species of Copper butterflies, Glade Coppers pupate in tents of leaves held together by silk rather than building a typical chrysalis.

They are about the same size as Rauparaha’s Coppers but have broader black markings on their wings than do other coppers with a particularly distinctive triangle on their lower wings near their bodies. They are curious butterflies and will often abandon their posts on branches to investigate other butterflies that flutter past before returning to the vegetation.

Other related species: The Boulder Copper and the Common Copper. The Boulder Copper is found throughout the South Island and on the central part of the North Island, while the Common Copper is found across the whole country.