I’m riding in a truck with Brian Lyford through the valleys surrounding Queenstown on a crisp December morning. Our destination is 1400 meters up on a nearby mountain. We complete the trip through private forestry land mostly by vehicle. An amazing view of the surrounding landscape greets us as we emerge from the tree-line. This is the mountain harbouring a special stink bug, Hypsithocus hudsonae, or the Alpine shield bug.
When I started my PhD project, my supervisors emphasized the importance of collecting this bug.
“Great,” I said. “How hard can it be?”
Well, it’s small and black. Nobody knows what the eggs or younger stages look like. There are no firm details about what it eats. And it’s hardly ever been collected. Oh, and it’s only found in a handful of mountain sites in Otago.
Right. Luckily I was able to tag along with a great team of people who know their stuff:
Brian Lyford: Amateur entomologist, moth hunter, talented craftsman and builder. Brian L was crucial to the mission. He arranged access to the mountain site where we would look for Hypsithocus. He’s also an experienced insect collector that had been to this area many times before. Interestingly, Brian L has a very impressive moth collection which he houses in beautiful wooden cases that he made himself. He also made the shelving for the cases. This moth collection takes up a whole room of his house, and contained within are species and specimens that make professional lepidopterists envious.
Brian Patrick: Entomologist, ecologist, author, butterfly specialist. Brian P has made massive contributions to the study of New Zealand’s biodiversity, particularly our butterflies. His knowledge of plants and animals is exhaustive, and his passion is infectious. Brian P is an experienced hand at biodiversity surveys, and his familiarity with alpine plants was a great help on the trip. His optimism and clear enthusiasm for his work was a bonus. Brian brought his son along to help out, and Tajimi was able to spot things that no one else noticed. Check out Brian’s NatureWatchNZ project: He’s logged 33,000 observations of more than 1,300 species of moths and butterflies from around the country!
Barbara Barratt & Team: Principal scientist at AgResearch Invermay, B3 theme leader, entomologist, biocontrol risk specialist. Barbara has over 200 publications to her name, ranging from risk assessments for biological control programs, to insect ecology and conservation of threatened species. One of her primary research areas is biocontrol of pasture pests, and she has done a substantial amount of work looking at pre and post-release risk assessment in this area. Barbara is very active in translating science into policy, to improve the way that New Zealand and other countries conduct biocontrol programs. Barbara came with a team from Invermay to sample the weevils in the area for research into non-target impacts of biocontrol agents. Her team comprised Diane Barton, Karen O’Neill, and Wayne Worth.
We disembarked the vehicles and started the relatively short ascent to the right spot. Barbara and her team deployed leaf blowers to suck up any weevils loitering on the slopes, while the rest of us started the search for the elusive black pentatomid.
The nervous tension built. The anticipation was palpable. Pedi-palpable, even. But after a while the call went up. Someone had found Hypsithocus!
Barbara relayed the news to one of my supervisors, Gonzalo Avila. Meanwhile, I was bathing in the sweet waters of relief. After collecting enough bugs to start a colony we descended to the cars and got on our way. Check out the recently published factsheet for this bug. It was put together by Nicholas Martin and features images of eggs and adorable nymphs from our colony.
Collecting all we needed in a single day was a huge win and I’m very grateful to everyone involved for all their help. I’m especially grateful to Brian L who graciously put me up for the night at his house in Queenstown and showed me his amazing moth collection.