Christchurch bug expert has his 140,000 specimens immortalised

A Christchurch bug expert obsessed with beetles, scarabs and other creepy crawlies is having his life's work immortalised.

Peter Johns has reached an enormous milestone – he’s collected 140,000 insects in a career spanning 57 years.

Entomology has been a lifelong obsession for Mr Johns.

“It's the challenge of finding out why there is so many of them, basically, and how they differ from each other,” he says.

Now every single bug in his collection is being counted, checked and listed online to help other researchers. It's a huge job, and after two years, the Canterbury Museum team has reached the halfway mark.

His collection is twice as old as some of the museum staffers, one of whom recently catalogued a specimen that was collected on the day she was born.

Peter Johns has travelled the country extensively in his search to find every insect under the sun. At 82, he's still discovering species, like a new sand scarab.

His collection is providing a vital New Zealand data base, according to Cor Vink, curator of Natural History for Canterbury Museum.

“If Peter wasn't around, if the collection wasn't around, this larvae would have turned up and people would have just assumed it was another sand scarab, possibly a similar species that is found elsewhere.”

Ninety to 95 percent of New Zealand insects are found nowhere else in world. It's thought there are thousands of species still undiscovered.

“The New Zealand insect fauna - I'll probably get shot for this - will not be known for another 200 years,” says Mr Johns.

That great mystery is what has kept him so enthused. Now five decades of perseverance and passion are being meticulously collected and collated for all to share.