Contents > Butterflies > Resident > Ringlets > Common Tussock
Distribution & Status
Widespread Found in the Southern Alps on eastern side of main divide, from the inland valleys of Marlborough to Southland. It increases in numbers in Otago and Southland. It never crosses to the western side of the main divide since it's too wet there. It has declined due to improved pastures for farm animals and burning of Tussock areas to improve the palatability of Tussocks for Sheep.
Scientific Classification More info
A native species of Butterfly that still needs farther study and whose life history is not well known. (See bottom of page for unanswered questions). Suspected lifecycle is one year in most of its range and maybe longer in the sub-alpine areas of range. It is very well camouflaged with closed wings, as they have silver streaks on the underside of the back wings that blend in with grass blades. it's range overlaps Janita's Tussock in it's eastern and northern range. Generally in most of the shared range, Janita's Tussock will stay above the beech forest line, whereas the Common tussock will stay below this altitude. but when the forest is absent, Janita's Tussock tend to fly in areas of Chionochloa - large Snow Tussocks, whereas the common Tussock will fly in areas of Festuca and Poa - small Tussocks and other grasses. The ovum and pupa are nearly the same on all three Tussock Butterfly species.Ovum In English
Ovum are either laid singularly on the foodplant or dropped when flying above the foodplant. Uniform white to pale-green for first 2 days, then become mottled brown in colour. Just before hatching the general colouration becomes silvery due to a layer of air between the shell and the larva inside. Barrel-shaped with 15-18 vertical ribs. They hatch after approx 6 days. Upon hatching, the larva chews around the crown and pushes it up to leave, then most of the shell is eaten by the newly hatched larva for it's first meal.Larvae In English
It is sleek leaf-green, yellow-brown or reddish-brown with yellow stripes down the side, fine setae, tapers towards the tail and has a distinguishing predominant dark mid-dorsal stripe which contrasts vividly against the body background colour. It has a bifid head and tail. They have 5 instars. They usually spend their resting time head-down below the notch they are presently eating. This can take several days as they are slow eaters. They eat through the leaves of Tussock or grass leaving small elongated notches along the margin. As they are elongated larvae and almost the same colour as the leaves, they are very well camouflaged. They are very similar to the Forest Ringlet larvae, but unlike the Forest Ringlet, the first instar larvae have a pale-brown head instead of a black head. Tussock larvae also have setae which are absent on the Forest Ringlet. Before pupating, they spend about 2 days head-down on a leaf with their anal prolegs attached to a silken pad, however they use all their prolegs to hold onto the leaf unlike the Forest Ringlet, which hangs free. Grows up to 28mm when fully grown.Pupa In English
More variable in colour then the other Tussock Butterflies, it ranges from a pale-green through dark-green to light-brown with a forked head. Larva's colours doesn't necessarily correspond to pupa colouration. It is elongated and attached to Tussock leaves by cremaster and usually lies flat along a blade for disguise in the heart of the plant. Pupation lasts between 12 to 18 days.Imago In English
The imago has a 31-46mm wingspan, male average is 44mm and female average is 40mm. Flight is weak and takes on a hopping appearance. They quite often land roughly and then have to find their footing. In full sun they keep their wings wide open, but quickly close them if there is any disturbance, including wind. I have observed that if faced with danger while resting or just landed near the top of a Tussock, it will flash its wings quickly (like an Admiral or Monarch), then immediately as drop low as possible into the Tussock with its wings closed. Historical literature notes similar behaviour while flying. The male is slightly larger and have red-brown wing patches. The female has a light yellow wing patch and whitish borders to wings. Both genders have black spots with 2 white ocelli on the forewings and several black spots with 1 white ocelli each on the hindwings. Even so the ocelli are on the upper wing surface, they show through to the underside. The orange wing patches are larger and lack the brown scales along the veins then those found on Janita's Tussock or Harris's Tussock. The sexual dimorphism results in the males having deeper colouration and the females having paler colouration then the other 2 Tussock Butterflies. However at higher altitudes the males become paler and the females become more intense in colouration, especially in central and western Otago. The definitive feature of the Common Tussock is that it has a 7th silver streak at the front of the underside of the hindwing, which meets a silver border which continues around to the rear of the hindwing. This silver border stops farther back on Harris's Tussock. Males appear more common, but is probably due to them spending more time on the wing.Habitat
Most common in South Island Tussock at altitudes of 500-1600m. However it is found from sea level to 2000m. In it's lowland ranges, it's still a common Butterfly in swampy areas and course grasslands.Food Plants
Silver Tussock (Poa cita), Red Tussock - Haumata (Chionochloa rubra), Festuca, Agropyron, Snow Tussock (Chionochloa spp), Other Tussock's (Poa spp) and some introduced grasses. it's suspected other Tussocks and grasses are suitable foodplants, but since the larvae are hard to find and the grasses are equally hard to identify, it maybe a while before there is a comprehensive list.Lifecycle
Note: there is possible inaccuracies for the egg, larvae and pupation stages.
The Common Tussock is a species of Butterfly that still needs farther study.
Unanswered questions are;
- How long is the period the ovum take to mature?
- What are the 'other' Tussocks and grasses they use for foodplants?
- Their distribution?
- Their lifecycle - is it different from other the other Tussock Butterflies?
- Is there a short summer generation?
- Altitudinal variation?
- Courtship behaviours?
- Do they hybridise with other Tussock Butterflies?
- Is there a better way of defining the habitat distinction between Janita's Tussock and the Common Tussock?
- Any correspondence between black spot frequency on the wings to the location?
Please contact nzButterfly.info if you can answer any of the above questions.