Notes from: A Dinner for a Lepidopterist

If Antares was where our sun is now, we would be engulfed by it.
– Paul Moss, Astrophotographer

Above: At dinner, Jim Byrt, Robert Hoare, Paul Moss, Keith Woodley, Annie Wilson, Sean Wilson, Ruth Irwin, Maria Heidemann, Trudy Lane. (By disciplinary descriptors: Animator, Lepidopterist, Amateur Astronomer, Shorebird Centre Manager, Orchardist, Engineer, Philosopher, Stiltwalker, Artist/Curator)

A large moth that landed on our front porch many months earlier, had gotten me researching moths and butterflies – or Lepidoptera as they are known through Carl Linnaeus‘ taxonomy of flora and fauna. Never having seen something as huge and green in Aotearoa before, my mother and I presumed it must be an Australian something blown over. We had to call Landcare to find out that it was the endemic Puriri moth, a green female. This was how I first met Robert Hoare, and found out that it is understood that moths fly in circles around lights because they believe they are orienting themselves to the moon. With Robert coming to speak at the Miranda Shorebird Centre in May, and an astronomer from the Eco sapiens event simultaneously in Auckland, I was interested to see what conversational crossovers might emerge. If I joined that conversation with my organic orchardist neighbours who are obviously reliant on and work with pollinators, and Keith Woodley of the Miranda Shorebird Centre who is knowledgeable on the shorebirds which navigate for seven days of often non-stop flight between Alaska to Miranda – what might come of it then? Joined further by the Philosopher Ruth Irwin (also Eco sapiens), and a stilt-walking friend of Paul’s, I had together my first Wonderlogue dinner.

After much cleaning and preparations for the big event, and the generous cooking help from my lovely partner Jim, all was ready and guests began to arrive. One guest’s dip went tragically crashing to the floor, but fortunately there were no other casualties. I gave the guests a short welcome and introduction to the concept behind House of Wonder, why I had brought them all together. The dinner proceeded into a hum of crossing conversations. None of which was going to be decipherable by my audio recording setup for documentation!

Much conversation, stories and wines later, Paul Moss disappeared outside to set up the telescope outside on the side porch. I had become a member of the friendly group which is the Auckland Astronomy Society, where you can hire Dobson telescopes for $10 a week. The night sky was clear, a ‘good night of seeing’ as they describe it at the Society, and Paul had first pointed the telescope to Saturn. The guests filed out to see, and to hover above the telescope eyepiece to see the gorgeously quivering image – reminiscent of a tiny early film – of a small but distinct planet and it’s rings. This was something you felt you knew… Saturn has rings… but there was something about seeing the thing itself… sitting high in the sky, and there they really were… those well-known rings clearly visible around it suddenly felt real to me.

A facsimile of the glowing fields of the moon as they looked from our side porch.

We were also fortunate that night to have a large moon. As each person stepped up to see, there began again the recurring sounds of short, sharp intakes of air, and the visceral gasps of ‘wow’… ‘amazing’… the tell-tale sounds of astonishment. Filling the viewfinder, was the moon’s vast pocketed paddocks of madly glowing luminosity, its surfaces soft and dusty, enticing a lunar frolick. With guests going back for many second and third looks, it was a beautiful, if chilly way to spend time relaxing together outside, with wines in hand, and many continuing conversations.

Later, after coming inside to some warmth, Robert gave a little tour of the specimen display of moths and butterflies he had brought along for his talk that day. He had discussed the mysteries of a Miranda moth that went misidentified for a long time, and on my hinting, he also mentioned the discovery of Fred the Thread (Houdinia Flexillisima), in nearby Hauraki Plains and recounted his related poem. This discovery of Fred the Thread is an inspiring example for my own humble efforts at local entomological observation and collecting. On the Sciencelearn Hub site, Robert discusses just how little is known about so many of the entomological species around us.

…over 80% of our insects at least will be endemic to New Zealand and occur nowhere else. We think there are probably about 20,000 different species of insects in New Zealand, and only about half of those – maybe 9,000–10,000 – have actually been given scientific names. And even of the ones that are named, probably more than half of those, really, almost the only thing that is known about them is that they have been found here and they have been given a name, and we know almost nothing about their life histories and how they behave or what their particular requirements are for habitat and… how common or how rare they are.
– Robert Hoare, Ecology of New Zealand, Science Learning.

In the morning long conversations over cereal were spent discussing the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of the world, which emerged into wanderings in the garden. A lovely end to a great weekend, with many good conversations to follow up on. Some of which were taken note of, as per below.

 

Notes-to-self — items to be translated and shared factoids to look into:

Navigation methods

  • The godwit/kuaka shorebird and whales are central to maori mythology.
  • Early maori navigation method was to mimi in the water to see which direction the phosphorescence flowed, to ascertain which direction the land was.

Astronomical

  • If Antares was where the sun is now it would engulf us.
  • Showings on paper from telescope eyepiece. Projecting the moon onto screen.
  • Solar telescopes for viewing the sun. Could the HoW afford to get one?
  • Maramarua –meaning ‘two moons’ in Maori?
  • Miranda is the 11th moon of Uranus.

Evolution & Biodiversity

  • The name—Lepidoptera—is derived from the Ancient Greek words for “scale wing.”
  • Butterflies are day-flying moths.
  • Pinkish knothorn – first discovered at Miranda
  • The tag-team evolution of the bat vs the moth with the radar scrambling antenae. Related Link; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061218122629.htm
  • Mind/brain – Mckneelidge has done wrybill research into left/right brain preferences for favouring legs.

 

 

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