Moths, Science and Te Kura Kaupapa o Ōtepoti

By Wena Harawira

Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti in Dunedin is helping a Pākehā scientist find out more about NZ moths. The project has helped Dr Barbara Anderson gain a Māori perspective, while encouraging the knowledge and interest of students in science.

Not much attention is paid to the night flying, short-lived moth. But they can be unique. The ‘Ghost moth’ is the largest of all, with wings that can span 15cm. Moth wings can also be colourful, although they fade in the light. It's knowledge that isn't widely known even though moths are everywhere.

Doctor Barbara Anderson says, “There's 2000 species in New Zealand and most of them - so more than 80% - are endemic to New Zealand and of those 2000 species only about 1700 are actually properly described and named.”            

This scientist is crazy about New Zealand's moths, she says moths and their caterpillars are a major food source for other species; which makes them vital to the ecosystem.

Anderson, “I want to get more data because I think it's a fantastic way to look at our ecosystem and answer some really cool science questions.”      

To do this Barbara launched a schools project on native moths for Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ōtepoti, to boost student's interest in science and information about moths. The project is supported by Otago University's Māori and Science Departments.

Tiahuia Kawe-Small says, “It's great being able to team up with them and use their skills to teach the students. They have brought the world of science to us.”

This includes scientific equipment and a financial grant to buy three microscopes.

“When students research and collect specimens, they'll be able to examine them in class. It's another way of learning,” says Kawe-Small.

Barbara has been learning too, about a Māori child's view of the world.

Anderson “And having to translate some of those ideas into te reo was very good for me in clarifying my thinking.”              

Kawe-Small says, “She made an effort to find Māori terms associated to moths, and would regularly use them to support the students work.”

It's hoped the project will ultimately encourage students to pursue science, like a moth to a flame.