Unique to the West Coast of the South Island (Te waka a
Maui) the sandfly forms an important part of the precious bio-diversity of New
Zealand (Aotearoa). With their
naturally sociable nature and affinity for people they have rightly been titled
“the friendly Coasters”. Their
attraction to people has also become the source of their widespread
Unfortunately despite their apparent abundance sandflies
have joined many native plants and birds as an endangered species. Like the Kakapo and its cousin the
Kiwi, the native sandfly is now the focus of a major conservation project. The department would therefore like to
invite all visitors to the West Coast to assist with the efforts to rescue this
unique and memorable species from the brink of extinction.
On their arrival to this scenic wonderland the early Maori
were almost certainly met by the sandfly.
In turn the sandly soon formed an important part of the early Maori
diet. Ingenious sandfly traps were
developed to collect sandflies in sufficient numbers. Several ancient sandfly traps are housed in Te Papa (Museum
of New Zealand) and interested visitors should ask staff for directions and
information on this fascinating episode in New Zealand history.
Unfortunately sandfly trapping led to a significant decline
in native sandfly numbers and is now banned. Some isolated rural Maori groups still continue the practice
and continued trapping is now the subject of a Treaty of Waitangi claim.
With the arrival of Europeans (Pakeha) and their domestic
livestock native sandfly numbers recovered somewhat but have since fallen
again. Further effort are required
to ensure that sandflies remain as part of the West Coast scene for future
generations to enjoy.
How many sandflies are there? The science of the sandfly ecology is in its infancy. No complete surveys of sandfly numbers
exist. What limited surveys we
have suggest that numbers may have fallen to as few as ten billion, and this
figure may be an overestimate.
Some authorities claim that these figures are inflated and based on
outdated techniques, which may have counted some sandflies twice.
Sandflies form a vital part of the nutrient cycle returning
essential minerals to the forest floor as they breed and lay eggs. In this way sandflies support the
magnificent rainforests available at the roadside for all to see.
Native sandflies require blood to live and breed. Prior to the arrival of humans sandflies
were largely vegetarian. However
only small pockets of vegetarian sandflies remain, due to loss of habitat and
the more aggressive blood sucking sandflies progressively displacing them.
An introduction to the biology of the native sandfly is
available to all simply by watching sandflies in the environment around
us. Sandflies are commonly found
close to moving water (had you noticed?) and have a limited flight speed. Try walking at various speeds to
determine the airspeed of sandflies.
See if you can spot the markings, which identify the five different
sub-species of sandfly.
For more detailed information on sandfly biology please ask
for the pamphlet titled “Sandfly Spotting; an Introduction” at the nearest
Museum, Tourist Information Centre or Department of Conservation office.
What you can do?
The Department is calling on all visitors to the region to
assist with the Native Sandfly Recovery Programme. Would visitors please divide themselves into two groups; those
allergic to sandfly bites and non-allergic visitors.
Sandfly allergy is marked by redness and itching at the site
of blood taking followed by swelling, discolouration and increasing panic.
Sandfly-allergic visitors are advised to remain indoors (in their
coach or hotel) for the duration of their visit. For any brief excursions outdoors wear long sleeved clothing
and use a citronella based insect repellent. If you are bitted by a sandfly avoid panic, try to keep the
affected part as still as possible and inform your coach driver or tour
guide. Alternatively present
yourself to the nearest hospital or medical clinic for expert attention. Fortunately with good medical care
sandly related deaths are extremely rare.
All other visitors are asked to refrain from harming
sandflies. Please do not use
insect repellent, avoid bruising or crushing sandflies and where possible wear
short sleeved clothing.
Your help is vital in this important conservation
project. The impact of tourism on
Sandfly numbers is being monitored. The future of the sandfly and the viability
of tourism on the West Coast is dependent on sustaining a delicate ecological
balance. Together we can save the
No sandflies were harmed in the transcribing of