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The family Noctuidae is one of the largest moth families in the world with around 12,000 known species. Moths belonging to this group are sometimes known as ‘owlets’ because of their nocturnal habits and their camouflage wing patterns, which often feature eye-like markings. Most noctuids are relatively robust, medium-sized to large moths, with a strong fast flight; a number of them are well-known migrants that are able to travel large distances in the search for new breeding grounds. They feed actively from flowers of many kinds, and are known to be significant pollinators. Like most other moths, ‘owlets’ usually lay their eggs on living plants, and the caterpillars feed on the leaves, flowers or fruit or, in some species, inside the stem. Many owlet species have caterpillars that are able to utilise a wide range of plants as food, and some of these species have become serious pests of agriculture or horticulture. On the other hand, some species are restricted to specific habitats and foodplants and are very local or rare. The caterpillars and foodplants of many species are still unknown, especially in the tropics. New Zealand has a relatively small fauna of Noctuidae, with about 160 known species, but most of these (around 140 species) are endemic to the country, occurring nowhere else. The number of exotic species established or regularly migrating here is slowly increasing. The Noctuidae, though recognised as a very important moth family, have not been especially well studied in New Zealand, and around 10% of the known species have not even been scientifically named. Many others are poorly known, and much confusion exists over the identification of these moths, which can be extremely variable in their colours and wing patterns.
This volume is the second part of a major review of the New Zealand noctuids, and treats the 87 species of the genus Ichneutica; 19 species are described here as new to science. This expanded definition of Ichneutica makes it the largest known genus of Lepidoptera in New Zealand. A new genus Nivetica is also described here for the distinctive small alpine species N. nervosa, formerly placed in Ichneutica. The caterpillars of most species of Ichneutica feed on low-growing herbaceous plants; a number of species specialise on grasses or on rushes and sedges. Most species are not restricted to a single host-plant, but many species are restricted to particular habitats or regions of New Zealand. Some of our commonest moths belong in this group, including Ichneutica mutans (formerly Graphania mutans), whose caterpillars can be a minor pest in orchards. Amongst the unusual new species described here, Ichneutica subcyprea, whose larvae feed on fork-ferns (Tmesipteris), is our only exclusively fern-feeding noctuid. Several species are restricted to offshore islands (Ichneutica erebia on the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, I. pagaia on the Snares, I. rufistriga on the Antipodes, and I. bromias, I. seducta and I. thalassarche on the Chatham Islands). A number of species have declined greatly as a result of human impacts on the environment. The most critically endangered is perhaps Ichneutica stulta, which was found rarely in Southland in the early 20th century by Alfred Philpott and Robert Gibb, and has not been seen for over 100 years; it may possibly be extinct.