By Keziah D’Souza
The common bag moth, Liothula omnivora, is endemic and can be found across Aotearoa New Zealand. Known also as whare atua (‘house of the spirit’), kopi (‘shut’), or Hineraukatauri (the goddess of Māori flute music), its common name comes from the strong silk bag, which the larva spins around itself, incorporating vegetation and bark from its host plants. In Māori tradition, Hineraukatauri loved her pūtōrino flute so much, she transformed into the moth living inside her pūtōrino bag. This bag is brown or grey and can often be seen hanging from the branches of several native and introduced plant species.
The bag’s design can be used to guess the sex of the larva within; males incorporate debris all along the length of the bag, whereas females place a few pieces of vegetation at its narrow end. The larva has three pairs of legs on its thorax and five pairs of ‘prolegs’, which hook into the lining of its bag, allowing it to drag the bag along as it forages. During the day and when threatened, the larva will retreat into the bag, closing the opening tightly. After pupating, males emerge as a black moth, whereas females are wingless and maggot-looking; females will lay eggs and die shortly after within their bags. Keep an eye out for those beautiful bags on your next walk through the bush!