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Riroriro & kowhai caterpillar

Biodiversity is a beautiful and sometimes surprising thing. Here in New Zealand we have a wealth of unusual, special taonga or treasured wildlife. Julia Piper, photographer, told us a story that illustrates the complexity of New Zealand native biodiversity – one where we can all learn a lesson that it isn’t only the big, bold birds or geckos that are important, but so too are the presumably lowly insects.

Julia noticed that roughly at the same time each evening, several riroriro or grey warbler visited her kowhai tree and she became curious as to what they were feeding on that had such a specific timetable. She watched and found these tiny shy birds, watching, listening and then pulling green caterpillars out of the bark.

These stunning songbirds may well have been eating our native or even endemic kowhai moth in it’s caterpillar form.

We often see observances on social media of homeowners being dismayed at the leaves stripped by these caterpillars, but we want to assure people that the kowhai trees do bounce back! Likewise, from these photos we can see plainly that these insects are an important food source for riroriro, who in turn will help to balance out the damage to kowhai trees.

Moral of the story, let the bugs be and don’t risk taking away the birds breakfast. You can encourage riroriro into the garden by planting native shrubs and hosting predator traps or bait stations to keep them safe. Lastly,listen out for their beautiful call as you are more likely to hear, than see them.

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