Skip to main content


High summer and everything intent upon breeding and increasing their numbers. Bugs everywhere! The "summer" flies are intent upon taking the food before it reaches my mouth. The Mason wasps, mud daubers, are loudly building their nests, not only under chairs but also in the folds of the drapes, while spiders threaten to totally envelop the cottage with their webs.
In the evening, if I dare to leave the windows open, I am bombarded by moths and click beetles and bugged by Huhu beetles. Raucous cicadas rudely awaken me in the morning while white butterfly caterpillars chomp their way through the cabbages.

But then there are the gorgeous and the exotic creatures which stop me in my tracks and dissipate any hostility towards the pestiferous. They send me off to the books to try and make an identification.

Gorgeous steely blue lady birds which I can always find in the lime tree. A tiny native bee in the hay paddocks which I have yet to identify and a strange creature I always find on the Corokia shrubs. Green and yellow with a touch of white and with two "horns", at first glance it looks like a beetle but when disturbed it reveals itself to be a spider. I'm still working on finding out just who it is.

The wisteria vine is utterly infested with another strange creature which I have actually managed to identify as the larvae of an Australian green plant hopper. They bear a tuft of whitish hairs at the end of their bodies and jump a considerable distance when disturbed.
Why this desire, this compunction, a friend has asked, to name things, to identify them?
To show respect, is my response.

How many species are there in the world today? Most estimates fall between ten and 100 million. It is indeed remarkable that we in this modern world obsessed with measuring things, do not know to within an order of magnitude how many species we share the globe with, says Richard Leakey in his book The Sixth Extinction.

We have a good estimate of how many stars are in our galaxy. We know how many nucleotide bases constitute the human genetic blueprint and we can calculate to within a few hours when a comet will collide with Jupiter yet we cannot put a secure number on current species diversity. It is not through lack of knowing but through a lack of commitment. Governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the systematic study of stars but only a tiny fraction of that sum on the systematic study of nature here on Earth.

Of the estimates of ten to 100 million species that may exist on this planet only about 1.4 million have been recorded and identified. Even here in New Zealand the vast majority of species are unnamed and unknown. However, if we did make the commitment to "aim at nothing less than a full count, a complete catalogue of life on earth", as Edward O Wilson urges, we would fail, as species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. It is estimated that half the species will become extinct by the middle this century.

However, there have been at least five occasions in the very long history of the planet when nearly two thirds of its living creatures disappeared from the face of the earth. The end-Permian extinction, 225 million years ago, extirpated more than 95 per cent of marine animal species and almost as many on land. Virtually all scientists who are studying biological diversity agree that we are now in the midst of the sixth great crisis, this time precipitated entirely by man, Homo sapiens.

The sad fact of our history is that no matter where we have gone, destruction and extinction of species has followed. This is not just a matter of our recent history. When primitive man crossed the Bering Straits into North America, destruction of all the great herbivores in both North and South America followed. The movement of the human species into the Pacific Islands, Australia and New Zealand was also followed by mass extinction of species, in our case the great flightless birds among others. European expansion in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries merely accelerated the process.

With the continuing destruction of habitat in the face of industrial and agricultural expansion, both of which are aspects of continued population growth, the process of species extinction in the twentieth century has accelerated even more, to the point where our own future may well be threatened.

We have a moral duty to know as much as can be known about, "the endless forms most beautiful", as Darwin has said, with which we share this earth. It has become my credo, for once identified, once known and named, one cannot easily deny a creature's existence, cannot so easily destroy them.


Popular posts from this blog

Turkeys and the domestic contract between animals and farmers

I suppose one should be forgiven for thinking about turkeys at Thanksgiving or Christmas but I wonder how many realise how much the wild turkey is part of our rural landscape, so much so that Americans now come out here to the Bay of Plenty to hunt them. When I first came to the Bay of Plenty, I was much taken by the mobs of wild turkeys wandering about the district. I was especially interested in those wandering about my neighbours’ farms but soon learned that the turkeys were not so wild that my neighbour’s did not have a propriety interest in them. Turkeys were introduced to New Zealand around the 1890s. In those days, until around the 1950s, most farms raised a few pigs and had a mob of turkeys along with “chooks” and ducks to give a greater self-sufficiency than is apparent on most farms today. The turkeys were half domesticated and half wild in that the mobs were allowed to roam free but were occasionally fed maize. The chore of rounding up the mob to feed them usually fell to the …

A Murder of Rooks

From Southland to Northland, Regional Councils around the country are once again putting out the call for sightings of rooks, Corvis frugilegus, in their efforts to exterminate them.
The rook is a minor agricultural pest, on a par with the yellowhammer, so how did this bird become a target for extermination rather than control? How did this bird become an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act?
The rook is a black, hoarse–voiced bird about the size of a magpie which was brought to New Zealand from Britain between 1862 and 1874 to help control agricultural pests. Unlike many other European birds introduced at the same time, rooks spread very slowly at first. Even as late as 1970, they were largely confined to parts of the Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, southern Wairarapa and Canterbury.
In the 1971 rooks were declared an agricultural pest in the Hawke’s Bay, largely because of the damage done to emerging crops.  Something like 35,000 thousand were shot, probably about half the population. Co…

They don't know who we are

They Don't Know Who We Are
I was sitting over the kitchen table, drinking tea and smoking. The back door was open but no matter how hard I listened I could never hear him coming until he kicked off his boots at the back door. “Sitting in the dark again,” he said as he came in and turned on the light. We blinked.
I poured him a cup of tea and lit another cigarette, tailor made. He sat down and rolled a cigarette. Those were the days when we all smoked, chain smoked.
“There are a couple of deer up there,” he said after he had lit his cigarette.   “Yeah,” I said. The pause was long and drawn out. “A hind and her fawn I figure.”
We drank our tea and smoked our cigarettes. I let him come to it in his own time.
“I suppose I should shoot them, before someone else does.”
I shrugged and shook my head.  I had seen it all before with hunters. Once we get past the age of 30 the old thrill of the hunt goes, and we get all sentimental, become bird watchers and photographers. The same with fishermen. T…