In one of my first posts I commented on the high number of birds that are endemic to New Zealand. Insects have an even higher endemic percentage with more than 90% of insects found in New Zealand being endemic. For every type of land bird in the country, there are more than 200 kinds of insects! Only New Caledonia and Madagascar have so many endemic species – like NZ they are islands that have been isolated for tens of millions of years. NZ insects in general are smaller and more dull-colored than the tropical varieties.
One of the most unique and recognizable of these insects is the Weta. Weta range in size with the largest (the Giant Weta) being almost as big as your hand. The Giant Weta is the world’s heaviest insect weighing in excess of 2.5 ounces. They have big bodies, spiny legs and curved tusks – you’ll see replicas of them in gift shops and the famous Weta Workshops (the studio that made the special effects for the Lord of the Rings Movies) is named after them.
Weta evolved without mammalian predators and are long-lived, nocturnal and omnivorous. They live in social groups like rats. They have lived long enough to see dinosaurs and have evolved into 70 different species (all endemic to NZ). Fossils found from 190 million years ago show similarities to the weta!
The name Weta is from the Maori word wetapunga which apparently means ‘god of ugly things’. The genus name means ‘terrible grasshopper’. There are Five broad groups of Weta
- Tree weta
- Ground weta
- Cave weta
- Giant weta
- Tusked weta
If you want to see a Weta, the only place I know of is the Aranui cave in Waitomo. Just inside the cave the guide will show you a stalactite formation that they live under and you can get a pretty good view.
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