As Whanganui Regional Museum Natural History Curator, Dr Mike Dickison's objects of interest range in size from the giant moa to the not-so-easy-to-see insects that live in hard to reach places.
David Seldon of the University of Auckland recently visited Whanganui. He's a specialist in the Mecodema, or "waisted" beetle, so called because of its corseted-like abdomen.
"This is a group of about 60 native, flightless beetles, found only in New Zealand. They burrow into the soil and eat earthworms," says Mike. "To find them you roll over logs or turn stones, which is what Dave and I and Rudi Schnitzler [an entomologist from Landcare Research] were doing recently at Mt Taranaki. We went up to Dawson Falls and found three Mecodema beetles."
The subject of this story is Brullea Antarctica, a close relative of the waisted beetles. David Seldon believes it should be included as a mecodema but it currently sits outside the classification.
"It looks really different from all the other Mecodema beetles," says Mike, "It's so chunky, so sculptured. This is a sand-burrowing one and it lives on the beach just above the driftwood, burrowing in the sand during the day and coming out at night. It presumably hunts but we really have no idea what it does. We know almost nothing about any of these beetles. We just about know how many there are but we know nothing about their behaviour or their ecology."
Brullea Antarctica is found all around the New Zealand coastline and is fairly widespread.
"It's just that no-one notices it because it can disappear for years at a time. This particular beetle [see photograph] was collected at Castlecliff by museum educator Margie Beautrais last month and she found another one that had been killed by a katipo spider - it was sitting in its web."
George Hudson [1867-1946], "the grand old man of New Zealand entomology" and author of a tome on New Zealand insects, collected weevils, stick insects, butterflies and beetles from all over New Zealand, including Whanganui, where he found Brullea Antarctica, but it wasn't seen after that for many years.
"It was rediscovered in 2006 by children from Aranui School as part of a Sea Week activity with Margie, and this was the first sighting in Whanganui since Hudson's day." Mike doesn't believe they're rare, just not something people look for. Their dark colouring against black sand is also ideal camouflage.
"I'm keen to collect some more live ones and put them in an aquarium and study their behaviour."
Mike is hoping people will start to look out for these little creatures, carefully collect them and take them in to the museum for further research.
"Why we are interested in them is because they're easy to see and find, and they're flightless, so if there's a problem with rats, mice or hedgehogs, they will be the first to go; they're food."