A young bug expert's fascination with creepy crawlies has cost him more than $10,000 after he was found with an illegal collection of foreign moths and caterpillars.
Zachary Paul Warren, 28, was fined $11,250 in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday for a number of charges under the Biosecurity Act.
He pleaded guilty to the charges, related to his possessing illegally obtained exotic moth eggs, hatching them and redistributing the eggs to three others around the country.
Warren was caught with the bugs by Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) biosecurity officers who turned up at his house last June.
MPI team manager Compliance Investigations Steve Ham said the 28-year-old bug expert led the team to a window where he'd thrown out a branch containing four large caterpillars and bowls that contained live caterpillars on leaves.
"A total of 37 live caterpillars and 41 dead moths were found," he said. "The dead moths were wrapped in paper triangle envelopes in a box in what Mr Warren called the 'butterfly room' and were ready to be posted out to be used in displays."
Ham said all the malaysian moon moths were unauthorised and considered to be "new organisms" under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
Warren had been sent 20 to 30 eggs late last year in a small plastic tube inside a greeting card by a friend living in New Caledonia.
Ham said the bug expert sensed it was wrong but his excitement at the opportunity it presented "drowned out" any thoughts of reporting the eggs and handing them into MPI.
In sentencing, Judge Lance Rowe said that if the moths had posed a greater risk to New Zealand's ecosystem, or if they had been dealt with for profit, the likely sentence would have been imprisonment.
Ham said the sentence was a reflection of the risk the foreign organisms posed to New Zealand.
"Due to the tropical nature of the species of moth they would not have become established here in New Zealand, however, there is always the risk that associated organisms and pathogens that can live on the moths could be introduced.
"A more detrimental effect on New Zealand's ecosystem could occur if a different species were introduced from a more temperate climate similar to that of New Zealand."