A first (and unsuccessful) reconnaissance for Zelotypia stacyi – the bent wing swift moth

Zelotypia stacyi, female

This specimen of Zelotypia stacyi was collected by a private collector in the western suburbs of Sydney a few years ago and is the only specimen of this species in my collection. I am yet to see or collect Zelotypia – but am determined to – and soon!

Last weekend, I found myself in Sydney and decided to have a serious look for the near-mythical bent winged swift moth, Zelotypia stacyi Scott. Although I have lived close to where Zelotypia occur for nearly a decade now, I have never seen one. In fact, the closest I came to seeing a live specimen was when a work colleague in Sydney brought me a specimen they hit with their car! They honestly thought the 280 mm moth was a bat – and that wingspan was when the specimen was set with wings 90* to the body! Sadly for me, she insisted on keeping the specimen, but she did give me a hint where to find it – the Macquarie Pass area of NSW.

Zelotypia stacyi, female, head detail

Detail of the head and legs of Zelotypia stacyi. Their legs, like those of Trichophassus giganteus, are incredible!

Macquarie Pass is mostly encompassed by the Macquarie Pass National Park, which extends from just above sea level to the top of the Illawarra Escarpment near the town of Robertson. As noted in Chadwick’s paper on Zelotypia, the larvae feed inside Eucalyptus tereticornis and E. grandis. Of these, the latter is found at lower altitudes along the escarpment, so after having spotted some from the car, I got out to have a look.

Putative Zelotypia stacyi bore

This is what I believe to be a vacated larval bore of Zelotypia, based on examination of a bore held by a private collector I know. It is rather comparable to those of the ghost swift genus Aenetus in that the bore is covered over with coarse silk webbing that incorporates wood shavings and frass (the webbing has been lost from this particular bore, which must be some years old by now). But Zelotypia bores are huge in comparison to Aenetus!

Habitat of Zelotypia stacyi

This bore was located a few meters up a sapling of E. saligna. Although not a specimen, it is a promising first start. I found a lot of what looked like bore holes on the same trees that I initially thought were active Zelotypia bores, but they turned out to be various scars not related to Zelotypia, or even large Cossids like Endoxyla spp..

Zelotypia wing detail

Here’s the thing about Zelotypia – they look very conspicuous when viewed as a specimen in a cabinet, but once you start looking at the trunks of Eucalyptus – it soon becomes very clear that they are supremely well camoflaged, because every second piece of bark looks like a Zelotypia after a while! Although Zelotypia are oft cited as a very rare species, they are relatively common and the reason for their “rarity” is perceived – they don’t come to light and live for a short time as adults. To see them, you have to be at the right place at the right time and then you have to be lucky enough to recognise that odd shaped bit of bark as a moth If you can’t manage to get everything lined up, you won’t ever see one. Remains of dead Zelotypia are also rarely found because they are heavily predated by birds. In fact, I have heard numerous stories from those who have collected or seen live Zelotypia that kookaburras and currawongs make short work of them as they emerge. They are not threatened because their host plants are common and widespread, and because the adults are so cryptic in their behaviour. In fact, the specimen shown above was collected in suburban Sydney!

To read more about Zelotypia, visit my the website of friend and colleague John Grehan. A variety of specimens photographed by Len Willan can also be seen here at Australian Moths Online.

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