Bushy Park

Spectacular Longhorns

If people are asked to think of “an animal”, they almost always name a mammal, sometimes a bird or a fish, maybe a reptile. But all of these animals are vertebrates, with backbones, and most animals, by far, are not vertebrates. There are nearly 400,000 species of beetles alone, five times as many as all the vertebrates put together.

Part of the Museum’s redeveloped exhibitions will be a display of beetles of the Whanganui area, and one of the families of beetle we will be showcasing is the longhorns.

1. Variegated longhorn

One of New Zealand’s largest and most colourful longhorn beetles, the variegated longhorn (Coptomma variegatum) larva burrows into native trees like kōwhai and tawa. It is also known as the tawa beetle. Photo: Whanganui Regional Museum.

There are almost 200 species of longhorn beetles in New Zealand, many of them large and distinctive. They are generally unmistakable, having antennae that are almost as long as their narrow bodies. The larvae of longhorns feed on wood, dead or alive, which they can digest with the help of fungus that lives in their digestive system. Longhorn larvae live for years inside branches or logs before finally emerging as an adult beetle. The adult longhorn is usually short-lived. Its only job is to mate and lay eggs.

New Zealand’s largest beetle is a longhorn, the huhu (Prionoplus reticularis). At this time of year, these large clumsy beetles often fly inside, attracted or confused by artificial lights. Huhu can give a painful nip if handled, but surprisingly they don’t eat as adults, and only live for a couple of weeks, spending all their time looking for a mate.

2.Huhu grubs

Our largest beetle is the huhu (Prionoplus reticularis). Its finger-sized grubs live for years in rotting logs, and were a valuable food, raw or cooked, for Māori. Photo: Charlotte Simmonds CC-BY.

Some species of native longhorn beetles have become pests. The lemon tree borer attacks not just native trees but fruit trees, grapes, and ornamental deciduous trees. Its larva can ringbark and kill entire branches while burrowing. The two-toothed longhorn usually tunnels into fallen logs, but is happy to inhabit firewood or stacked drying timber. It can cause real structural damage, making tunnels much larger than the tiny holes associated with furniture borer (which is in an entirely different beetle family).

3. Blosyropus spinosus

The spiny longhorn (Blosyropus spinosus) is only slightly smaller than the huhu, but is much less common. This one was found at Bushy Park. You can see the paired spines on head and thorax from which this rare flightless beetle takes its name. Photo: Tom Miles / Zoomology.

Most of our native longhorns, however, are not pests; they concentrate on breaking down and recycling rotten wood in the bush. Many are large attractive beetles, and some can even hiss or squeak when disturbed. While on a Museum moth survey at Bushy Park, we came across the rare spiny longhorn (Blosyropus spinosus), New Zealand’s second largest longhorn species. A docile flightless beetle with paired spikes on its back, it is widespread but rarely seen. The National Arthropod Collection in Auckland, with 6.5 million specimens, contained only 22 spiny longhorns from the entire country, dating back to 1915. To know this species is surviving in Bushy Park is a testimony to the intensive rat and mouse control that’s been happening there. Conservation is about more than just vertebrates.

Dr Mike Dickison is Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum.


Giraffe Weevils

In January this year the Museum helped run a night-spotting Whanganui Summer Programme field trip to Bushy Park. The participants were lucky enough to see, up-close, two long skinny insects that had been found by DOC’s Scotty Moore under a rotten log. They were giraffe weevils, New Zealand’s longest beetle.


A male giraffe weevil (Lasiorhynchus barbicornis) found by Scotty Moore at Bushy Park
Photo: Whanganui Regional Museum

The giraffe weevil’s Latin name, Lasiorhynchus barbicornis, means “hairy-nose with a bearded horn”. Its Māori name is pepeke nguturoa, or long-beaked beetle. (By the way, nguturoa is another Māori name for kiwi). They’re also called tūwhaipapa, after the god of newly-made waka, because their nose resembles a canoe prow. All these names refer to the male, who has a snout as long as the rest of his body with a fringe of hairs underneath.

Male and female giraffe weevils look very different, and were named as two different species when the specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks on Captain James Cook’s first voyage were studied back in Europe. Female giraffe weevils are tiny compared to males, and have a shorter snout which they use to drill an egg-laying hole into dead trees. Their eggs hatch into grubs which eat fungus inside rotting wood for two years, finally pupating and digging their way out of the tree as adult weevils in summer. Peak emergence time is February, so right now is your best opportunity to see adult giraffe weevils in the wild, as they only live for a few weeks before mating and dying.


 Male giraffe weevil guarding a small female, who is busy digging a hole for her egg
Photo: Christina Painting / CC-BY-SA

An adult male giraffe weevil’s primary concern is finding a female, and they use their enormously long noses to fight other males by biting and wrestling, trying to dislodge their opponents from the tree trunk. When they find a mate they literally stand over her while she lays an egg, driving off all challengers. Some much smaller males employ a different reproductive strategy: while the big macho males are distracted by fighting and posturing, these little males will sneak in and mate with the female under their rival’s enormous nose. Research by biologist Chrissie Painting at Auckland University revealed that both these tactics were roughly equally successful at fathering offspring, which is why we see such a range of body sizes in male giraffe weevils. It’s like a field experiment in evolution: if one strategy were more successful, natural selection would favour it, and eventually male giraffe weevils would have all evolved a similar body size.

Chrissie was able to find several dying karaka trees in Matuku Reserve near Auckland where she could watch males battle and sneak, and observe their life cycle. She used tiny dots of coloured nail polish to mark the different males so she could tell them apart, and filmed them tossing each other off trees. Giraffe weevils are a useful study animal for observing evolution in action, because they’re active in the daytime (unlike many beetles) and easy to observe. After having to work long nights studying native harvestmen, she describes the weevils as “little angels”.


Female giraffe weevil, showing her much smaller snout, with antennae halfway along it, allowing her to chew nest holes; male antennae are near the tip of the snout
Photo: Christina Painting / CC-BY-SA

If you want to see real-life giraffe weevils for yourself, you could venture into lowland native bush between October and March, look on the trunks of rotten trees, and, if you’re lucky, see two long-nosed insects jousting.


Dr Mike Dickison is Curator of Natural History at Whanganui Regional Museum.

The Panoramic Photographer

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

Panorama of Wanganui N.Z. from Durie Hill, 1923 (2004.25)

The Panoramic Photographer – R P Moore Studio

From 1923 until 1931 the R P Moore studio operated from 80 Manners Street in Wellington and specialised in commissioned panoramic views of up to 200 degrees. R P Moore was, first and foremost, a commercial photographer. His undoubted success in business was not only the result of his ability to sell, but also due to the quality of the product. Sixty to seventy years later, many of his prints hang, still treasured, in the institutions, businesses and houses for which they were made.

The studio’s photographers traversed New Zealand on commissions from the Government Tourist Department. Before travelling to specific areas, they contacted the more established local firms, institutions and individual property owners, making their services known and thus securing further commissions.

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

Reception to Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke & Duchess of York, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1927 (1802.1611)

The Camera and Negatives

The camera used by the Moore photographers was the most technologically superior available, the No. 10 Cirkut camera made by Graflex Inc., New York. By means of a clockwork motor, the camera traversed a circular track that gave a range of up to 360 degrees (although the Moore studio rarely exceeded 200 degrees). As the camera moved from one side to the other, taking up to a minute, the mechanism simultaneously unrolled the film, each exposure being the full height of the negative but only about 8mm wide. The photographer could only determine the direction and scope of the camera’s path. There was no viewfinder and the required exposure had to be guessed. The equipment included a tripod that could be extended up to almost five metres and which came with its own ladder.

The negatives, averaging a metre in width, generated seamless images of great clarity.  Because the extent of these views replicated the act of looking, the panorama prints were very saleable objects

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

Wanganui Swankers’ Club “Help the Blind” Appeal, 1923 (1802.4163)

R P Moore

Robert Percy Moore was born in Christchurch in 1881. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he seems to have begun his photographic career in Australia. During World War I he was working in Queensland specialising in postcard views.

His earliest-known panoramas date from around 1919 when he had a studio in Sydney.  After eight years in Wellington from 1923 to 1931, he returned to Australia. He was back in New Zealand by 1936, because, from that year until 1941, he was based in Rotorua working in partnership with James Thompson at the Panora Studio. In 1941 he returned to Australia, and he died in Sydney seven years later.

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

Virgin Bush, Bushy Park Estate, Kai Iwi, 1923 (2006.37.1)

The Panorama

We are so used to having pictures of landscapes around us it is hard to realise that such representations have been around for only the last 400 years. Until then landscape was used only as a background to stories about gods and goddesses or Christian stories. Pictures of landscape alone originated in 16th century Holland. The actual word “landscape”, as Simon Schama says in his recent book Landscape and Memory, “entered the English language, along with herring and bleached linen, as a Dutch import at the end of the sixteenth century.” Our experience of the landscape is of a big space, and consequently, over the past 400 years, landscape pictures have tried to get past the confines of the frame. It is the difference between looking at a view through a window and standing outside looking at the view.

By the beginning of the 18th century this had developed into a type of landscape picture known as “the view”. The aim was to show an actual place, in a way that created a sense of being there, by suggesting light and space. As the 18th century progressed “the view” picture developed into the panorama. This wider view had several origins. For instance, some of the earliest English examples were made by surveyors, and this practical charting of a real landscape is still part of the urge to make panoramas.

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

Panorama of Wanganui from Fire Brigade Tower on Bastia Hill, 1923 (1997.93)

The panorama form developed further in the 19th century and became increasingly “photographic”. Although the processes of photography were not publicly announced until 1839, the earliest of them were discovered in the mid-1820s, and the first photographers automatically imitated the picture-making of the contemporary painters. From that time the panorama featured strongly in the history of photography right through to the end of the 1920s, and the work of the R P Moore studio represents a pinnacle of its achievement.  Since the mid-1980s, with a resurgence of interest in 19th century photographic forms and processes, the panorama has experienced a real revival.

By Peter Ireland

Peter Ireland is an artist and an independent curator with a special interest in photography