On the trail of Zelotypia stacyi (aka the Cigar moth!)

A few weeks ago, a Sydney colleague who wishes to remain anonymous managed to collect a specimen of Zelotypia stacyi – something he had been waiting the best part of half a century to do! Here is a pic of the specimen freshly collected:

Zelotypia stacyi, male

Note the recurved abdomen – this matches the aposematic displays observed by others. This display is probably intended to make use of the eyespots and abdomen to resemble a rather ticked off lizard snapping its mouth, but after having spent some time searching for Zelotypia in habitats in western Sydney, I believe it would blend in superbly at rest on a tree trunk. Other species with rather spectacular eyespots have also been noted to blend in supremely well at rest, including Morpho butterflies such as M. cisseis (read the passage on that species in Seitz).

I had been encouraging said colleague with hints and suggestions via mobile phone all evening, and was spreading specimens when an excited phone call came in. The conversation went something like this:

“Have you gone to bed or something?”
“No, why? Did you get one?”
“Bloody hell yes! Check your phone, I just sent you a picture!” (the phone had buzzed when the pic above came in, but I was concentrating on setting a 165 mm Morpho cisseis and had not heard it)

<pause as what he has just said to me sinks in>

“You LEGEND!”

His collection method – it flew across the road, got dazzled by his headlights, and crash landed. Presumably, his car would have parked itself as he bailed out the door to collect the specimen.

So, a week later, I was up in Sydney myself, driving about likely places from dusk till well past 11 PM hoping for a specimen to make a repeat performance. And while I saw an ochre-brown, ghostly apparition the size of a small bird fly well above the car in the gloom of my headlights, it did not land, so I am not sure whether it was a Zelotypia, a bat or an owl. The unusual flight pattern suggests to me that it was not a vertebrate, though. In fact, it flew a little like an Ornithoptera: wings high and with a flopping characteristic.

So I lucked out. The following two nights were better, though. I joined fellow Hepialid collector Allen Sundholm in the field in Sydney and managed to collect some Abantiades barcas (a new one for the collection) and one specimen each of A. labyrinthicus, A. hyalinatus and A. aphenges (also new for the collection). Specimens will be posted once they are off the boards.

But I did come back to Canberra with a Zelotypia – and a historic one at that, courtesy of Allen (thank you once again my friend!). Here’s a picture of it:

Zelotypia stacyi, male, ex collection Harald Schraeder

The collection data for this specimen is:

Australia: New South Wales: Tuncurry, 4 April 1920. Ex coll. (and leg.?) Harald Schrader. That means that, at the time of writing this edit (4 April 2015), this specimen was collected exactly 95 years ago! Incredible! I would be pretty sure that the last thing Harald Schrader would have ever expected is that someone would be thinking about him collecting this specimen exactly 100 years later.

So who was Harald Schrader? He was a dentist and private insect collector who amassed one of the finest collections of Australian and exotic Lepidoptera to date in Australia. He was a widower and neglected his health to the point where a doctor was called to make a house call by his concerned relatives. The story of how that doctor, John Byrne, came to purchase the collection can be read here. Sadly, after Doctor Byrne sold the collection to the Butterfly Farm at Wilberforce in far north-western Sydney, it was broken up and sold at auction. Allen then managed to purchase this male and the three females shown on the Schrader Collection blog during the auction; the fate of another seven or so specimens Schrader had, plus the other ghost moths in that collection remains unknown. If anyone knows their whereabouts, I would be interested in knowing, solely for the sake of history. Needless to say, this male is now one of the most treasured specimens in my collection.

As an interesting aside, I emailed the photo of the Schrader Zelotypia male to Andrew Byrne (who runs the blog on the Schrader collection I link to above) for his interest. He told me that he and his sister used to call Zelotypia “cigar moths” as children! I will now have a hard time not calling them that (hence the blog post title). Cigar moth is a lot nicer and historic than bent-winged swift moth.

Now I need to find a live specimen – but it will now have to wait till next year. Zelotypia are now pretty much done for 2015.

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One thought on “On the trail of Zelotypia stacyi (aka the Cigar moth!)

  1. Hello, I’m Thierry from New Caledonia…..What a wonderful site !!!!….congratulations….I like so much hepialids. Here we just have one specie : Aenetus cohici, and I’m studying his life cycle for a while now. A small scientific article will come very soon I hope….
    Just a first look of our endemic ghost moth, have a look on the following link, I’ve edited this article with the french magazine “insectes” a few years ago :
    http://www7.inra.fr/opie-insectes/pdf/i159salesne.pdf
    I like so much the Zelotypia s. ghost moth, what a beauty !!!….the general appearence is just amazing and really primitive. Did you try to collect some mature larvae tunnels on eucalypt trunks ?…..I do that here for Aenetus. When the larvae is mature, it opens the entry and make a hole in the silk cover, so you can see a very large hole, easy to see. Then you just need to look inside the galery, and if the inside silk top still closed, that means the pupa is inside, so you can cut the part of trunk and soak the bottom in water, put some wax on top, and just wait a few days to get the magnificient ghost moth !!!!….I made some nice photos of hepialids emerging, this moment is just rare and wonderful !!!!!….
    Thanks again for sharing your experience, and I’m looking forward for more photos and articles !!!!!….
    Best wishes
    Thierry

    Like

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