A rare species of native moth not seen in New Zealand for almost 20 years has been found in Katikati.

Landcare Research scientist Robert Hoare was "sweeping" a butterfly net through bush when he discovered the elusive Thambotricha vates moth, which was last caught by his predecessor, John Dugdale, in Taranaki in 1996.

"I was quite excited," said Mr Hoare, an Auckland-based arthropod scientist.

"I looked in the net to see what was there and I saw this sort of, bright, bright brownish moth at the bottom of the net, and because of it's unusual shape I was able to recognise it pretty much immediately."

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DAYLIGHT CATCH: Robert Hoare often uses a light trap to catch moths at night. However, the elusive Thambotricha vates was caught during the day by using a net. Photo/Bryce McQuillan
DAYLIGHT CATCH: Robert Hoare often uses a light trap to catch moths at night. However, the elusive Thambotricha vates was caught during the day by using a net. Photo/Bryce McQuillan

There is no common name for the Thambotricha vates moth yet, but Mr Hoare has named the rare species wonder-haired prophet, which is a translation from the moth's latin name.

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The "wonder-haired" name stems from the unusually long hairs at the end of the moth's feelers.

The moth was small, measuring about 1.5cm across the wings, he said.

Although the native moth had not been spotted for 20 years, it did not mean the species was close to extinction. "We never thought it was extinct, it's just one of those things that's just really, really elusive and hard to come across." he said. Only about 15 Thambotricha vates moths have been caught since it was discovered in 1922 in Wellington.

"There's a lot of things we haven't seen for many, many years, but because there's so few people out there looking, especially the smaller insects in New Zealand, there are lots of those things that remain very mysterious." said Mr Hoare.

This specific moth would only be found in "fairly good" native bush.

Unlike the traditional method of attracting moths by light, the sweeping method Mr Hoare employed had enabled him to scoop the insect in daylight.

"This specific moth is at least somewhat active in the day, mainly nocturnal but it would be perhaps sitting amongst vegetation by day but we don't really know just yet and that's the thing."

The moth has now been collected as a voucher specimen and is stored under the New Zealand Arthropod Collection.

Mr Hoare said studies about the moth can now be done which will hopefully give more insight into other related moth species, it's life history and habits.

After finding that one species in a Katikati forest, it showed the Bay of Plenty was a "fantastic" area for small native insects, he said.

"I think the Bay of Plenty should be proud that they've managed to preserve these things. This is a good moment of saying, 'Well, this little thing has survived', and probably goes to show that that forest, from an insect's point of view, is in pretty good condition."