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The 'bug man'

Reporter Shaan Te Kani puts Gisborne’s very own ‘bug man’, Mark Tutty, under the microscope . . .

Ask Mark Tutty if he is an expert on bugs, and he is quick to say no.

“I’m a passionate amateur. A passionate bug enthusiast,” he says.

While reluctant to admit that he is Gisborne’s bug expert, the reality is, there is no one quite like Mark in the region.

He is a regular at local bioblitz events. A bioblitz is an intense period of biological surveying, in an attempt to record all living species within a designated area.

“The more my interest in bugs grew, I decided to go to the Department of Conservation,” he says.

“I told them that I wanted to get involved in this sort of thing. They said they were doing a few bioblitz events and that I should go along.

“I’d go along to these bioblitzs and then everyone would start asking me questions, looking to me as the expert.

“While we were at a bioblitz at Te Wherowhero Lagoon, I made a homemade moth trap so that I could put it out at night and figure out what moths were out there.

“Bioblitz events provide a really good opportunity for everyone involved with the space to find out about what is living there.

“About 90 percent of what is living there, you actually walk past everyday and never see it.

“When you’re in the bush and you hear the cicadas, you don’t often realise there are 10 different species of cicadas.

“A bioblitz is a good way to getting in there and getting up close to the bugs.

“Bugs are so important because they provide transport pathways for nutrients in the environment.

“You have a big tree, the leaves fall down and nothing really moves away from that space.

“When bugs come into the space, they eat the leaves and move it around.

“In a forest setting when you see a big tree come down, that opens up a whole lot of new things that are going to happen in that space and new cycles start up.

“Bugs are the biggest movers and shakers of what happens there.”

Mark’s fascination with bugs also developed like a new cycle in his own life.

“How I got involved with this sort of thing was, I got cancer a few years back.

“When you get something like that in your life, it makes you take stock of things.

“So I was looking to make a change from a career of computing and get out into horticulture.

“I went to the Eastern Institute of Technology and did a Level 3 horticulture course.

“A friend who was working at the Botancial Gardens said ‘hey, you’ve done a horticulture course, can you come and help me catalogue the botanical gardens?’

“At that time there was no list of all of the things that were growing there.

“We had a go at doing it, and at first it didn’t go very well. My friend was calling out names and I didn’t know how to spell them. It was just a mess.

“So I got online using my computer background and found this website called iNaturalist.nz

“It is also an app, an absolutely brilliant tool. You take a photograph of a living thing, upload it, and scientists all over the world trip over themselves to be the first one to tell you what it is.

“After we did the Botanical Gardens catalogue I started becoming more interested in the bugs that we came across.

“I carried on doing the spiders, the moths and the butterflies through iNaturalist.

“And then because you’re dealing with these scientists who tell you what things are, I’ve had lots of conversations with scientists around the world.”

Mark is the only person in Gisborne who is active in the iNaturalist space.

He will be participating in a global city nature challenge this month, which is a competition to see who can find the most biodiversity — the most number of species over a period of time.

“We do it over a period of three days. The New Zealand city for the challenge is Christchurch.

“We will be meeting down there trying to find as much biodiversity as we can and then compare it to what is found in other countries.

“It is a different hobby, and you don’t really see this sort of thing.

“I have an interest in it and I want to learn. But I haven’t been able to find anybody locally to learn from.

“So I’ve been trying to get involved with the rest of the country. I’ve been in touch with Auckland Museum — I have a relationship with them now.

“A lot of the material that I’m pinning (collecting), I’m putting towards a collection in the Auckland Museum.

“I’ve also been involved with Lincoln University in Canterbury.

“I’ve spoken with the foremost moth expert in the country, who is in Otago.

“I was talking to him about my homemade moth trap and how bulky it was to travel with, while walking through the bush.

“He said ‘oh I’ve got a couple of spare ones here’. He sent me one and said I could use it until they needed it back.

“At first I used to think, my homemade trap is not going to be anywhere as good as the professionals.

“But since I’ve had these, I’ve compared the results, my one works just as good, and it only cost $60, whereas the professional traps cost $300-$600.

“When I started out I couldn’t afford a $600 moth trap. I had a challenge to overcome.

“But you don’t have to let little things like that hold you back. You can find a way.”

Mark hopes to one day make a career out of his passion.

“My everyday work is that I’m a labourer, a roading worker. Hammer and spade, that’s me. This is just a passionate hobby.”

But his expertise is valued and is becoming more recognised.

Mark recently did a school presentation alongside the team from the Whaia Titirangi restoration project, which is a kaitiakitanga (guardianship) programme that includes weed management of Titirangi Maunga (Kaiti Hill).

Mark shared his knowledge and passion for bugs with children from Te Kura Reo Rua o Waikirikiri (Waikirikiri School) during their noho marae at Te Poho o Rawiri Marae.

“We talked about what you can find in your backyard, what you can find here on Titirangi, and ways that you can look for bugs.

“But mostly it was about encouraging them to get out there, be still for a little while and see what turns up. Because they will come to you. You don’t actually have to go hunting to find them.

“I love to share my passion with children and anyone willing to listen.