[Taxacom] taxonomic question concerning naming of unique species known only from painting of lost type

John Grehan calabar.john at gmail.com
Thu Mar 1 22:47:53 CST 2018

Dear colleagues,

I would be interested in opinions regarding what to do about the genus name
of a ghost moth for which the type has been lost and for which the original
genus name is preoccupied. The only record of its existence is a painting
made by the collector. Kiwi entomologists on this list will be familiar
with this case.

The moth was originally named as Porina mairi. The genus Porina was
originally applied to a number of New Zealand ghost moths but since it was
preoccupied these species have been assigned to other genera. The mairi
species has been listed on the web under the genus Aoraia but there is not
a shred of evidence for that assignment as the moth looks nothing like any
known species of Aoraia (actually not specifically much like any known
ghost moth other than in a general way for some of the wing pattern [other
parts of the wing pattern being anomalous]).

So the question for me is how to list this species in a world catalog of
ghost moths. Should I just list it as 'Porina' mairi, or assign it to a new
genus? Which approach would be considered most 'professional' if that could
be said? Please post views to the list so others may respond if
appropriate. There may not be a 'right' answer, but at least opinions on
this might help me decide which choice to make. Below is a description of
the history of this specimen. A photo for the curious is at

Many thanks,

John Grehan

Web site history note: New Zealand's largest moth may well be rarer than
the black robin or the kakapo. Buller's moth, a relative of the
agricultural pest species the porina, is known only from a single specimen
caught in the Ruahine Ranges by Sir Walter Buller (the famous Victorian
ornithologist) and his brother-in-law, Captain Gilbert Mair, while they
were searching for huia during summer of 1867.

The moth was reported to have a wingspan of almost 6 inches (150
millimetres), being as large as the huge bright green puriri or ghost moth
which is occasionally attracted to house and street lamps on moist nights
mainly during spring. The moth was described by Buller and illustrated in
the Transactions of the Royal Society of N.Z. of 1872, and the specimen
then lay for over 20 years in his son's collection. In 1890, the moth was
reportedly sent to the British Museum on the barque Assaye, which sank
during the voyage. However, we now know that the Assaye sank not on its way
to England, but on the return journey, and so the present location of the
specimen (if it still exists) remains a mystery.


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