New Zealand butterflies lack the brilliance of colour of those of more tropical countries and it is of interest that the really spectacular groups are completely absent from our fauna. The family Lycaenidae, which embraces the “blues” and “coppers”, is represented here but the native species are not spectacular. Many members of this family are associated with ants but in New Zealand this relationship does not appear to occur. The little grass blue (Lycaena labradus) is common in the warmer parts of the country, and the coppers of the genus Chrysophanus are not uncommon on stony riverbeds where Muehlenbeckia grows.
The most conspicuous of our butterflies belong to the family Nymphalidae. It is to this group that the introduced “Wanderer” or “Monarch” butterfly belongs. Dodonidia helmsi is a very attractive butterfly found in beech forest areas but very restricted in distribution. Argyrophenga antipodum is a variable, rather dusky species which occurs in tussock areas, mostly at moderate altitudes, while two species of Erebia, which are almost black, occur in alpine meadows and about high screes and rock faces.
Among our better-known species are the “Painted Lady” (Pyrameis cardui) and the “Red Admiral” (Pyrameis gonerilla) whose caterpillars feed on nettle (Urtica spp.).
by Bruce Boucher Given, M.SC., Entomology Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Nelson.