Hunting Insects in Suburban Paraparaumu

I was asked to conduct an insect survey of Kaitawa Reserve, Paraparaumu, by Forest and Bird Kapiti branch. The purpose was to photograph an interesting selection of insect life that could be featured on interpretive boards, to accompany billboards already being designed for the birds and fishes of the reserve. I think it’s great when conservation groups take insect biodiversity seriously, so I was happy to help.

I also put out word on Twitter that I was doing the insect survey and invited people on the Kapiti Coast to come join in. There was plenty of interest, and in the end one couple came for the evening and again the next day, along with one more person and a family with two small kids. All the adults said they had a great time, and the kids got to play in the stream and chase butterflies and look at eels, so it was fun all around.


Kaitawa reserve is 7 Ha, a mixture of remnant coastal wetland forest and revegetation that volunteers have been adding to since 1996. It contains tōtara, rimu, kahikatea, puriri, kohekohe, titoki, tawa, hinau, rewarewa, kowhai, swamp maire, and turepo.

What We Did

Saturday Feb 3
8:30 pm – midnight: Light trapping
I set up a LepiLED UV light trap to attract moths and beetles in sheltered open area near the playground. The night was calm, warm, and a bit humid, excellent conditions for attracting insects. I was a bit concerned because there was almost no cloud and we were close to a full moon, but in the end it didn’t rise until shortly before we called it quits for the night.

The white sheet was quickly covered with caddisflies – unsurprising, as we weren’t far from a stream. I was hoping for dobsonflies, but no luck (although we did find a dobsonfly larva in the stream the next day). There were plenty of porina moths, loopers, and pug moths, and some orange Netelia wasps, which are caterpillar parasites. Reasonable diversity, though it would have been nice to see more beetles – such as huhu and other longhorns – and a wider variety of moths.

Richard Hall’s How to Gaze at the Southern Stars is evangelical about the value of stargazing just through binoculars, something I’d never tried. And it was extraordinary. The Pleiades resolve from a smudge to distinct stars, and you can see the shadows of the edges of the moon’s craters.

Sunday Feb 4
08:30 am – 3:00 pm: Insect hunting

  • Sweep netting in long grass
  • Beating vegetation with stick and beating sheet to dislodge insects
  • Hunting flying insects with butterfly nets
  • Looking under logs and stones
  • Completely disassembling rotten logs with the trusty butter knife
  • Searching the stream for aquatic larvae
  • Emptying pitfall traps I set two weeks ago

The next morning was fine and sunny, and straight after breakfast the reserve was alive with butterflies: yellow admiral, monarchs, cabbage whites, and common blues (no coppers or red admirals). Cicadas were calling, and tūī and kererū flapped noisily overhead. My volunteers ran to and fro chasing tiger beetles with butterfly nets, or thrashing bushes with a stick to see what was dislodged (the expected stick insects duly appeared).

I happened to have some fish nets, so we checked out the stream and almost immediately caught two small longfin eels and a school of īnanga. When we put them in an enamel pan to look at, a local family who’d been using the playground could contain their curiosity no longer and came over to ask questions. We ended up having a great conversation about biodiversity, fresh water, eel breeding, and the importance of reserves like this.

By mid-afternoon, we were fairly exhausted, but had managed to find enough colourful and obscure insects and spiders to fill an interpretation panel. Next time I run a survey like this, it should be something like a miniature BioBlitz, with a call for public participation: having multiple searchers was tremendously helpful, and locals would be fascinated to learn what was living in their backyard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *