Thursday, June 21, 2012

Strange Denizens 1: Weta

Wētā is the Maori name for one of our endemic creatures:
 large, spiny, wingless grass-hopper-like insects. 
They are members of the order Orthoptera, and are therefore
related to grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids. 

Like their relatives, they have powerful hind legs for jumping. 

When they feel threatened, they will raise them defensively, 
like this female Giant Wētā:

 There are over 100 species in New Zealand, classified in five groups:
  • tree Wētā
  • tusked Wētā
  • cave Wētā
  • ground Wētā
  • giant Wētā
 Some are herbiverous, others eat meat. They're all nocturnal.


Giant Wētā - many species of these are endangered

I find all of these insects fascinating, if a little scary. They can inflict 
quite a bite, but they only do so if they're scared.
I've found them in gumboots, crawling out of the laundry sink, sitting on the
rim of the toilet - in dry weather they seek out moisture and it's common for them 
to appear in basins and hosepipes...

Tusked Wētā - the tusks are for fighting
A few more cool facts:
  • the Wētā has changed very little in the last 100 Million years! (fossil evidence)
  • the Giant Wētā is so heavy it cannot jump
  • the largest ever recorded was a female which weighed 71 grams, 
  • 3 times heavier than a mouse
  • alpine ground Wētā can survive being frozen, although they don't 
  • contain anti-freeze
  • ground Wētā are the only group who don't have their ears on their front legs
  • the plural of Wētā is Wētā
cave Wētā

Male giant Wētā
I hope you've enjoyed  meeting these creatures. I've had a couple of nips on a finger, which have caused no real damage. They seem aggressive - they can do a good line in hissing and waving their back legs at you - but they're no danger at all. I would never kill one - it's easy to lift them on a shovel or something and put them safely out in the garden.

And then there's Weta Digital - the local New Zealand design animation company who have made special effects for Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Tin-Tin, Rise of The Planet of the Apes, X-Men, King Kong and a host of other movies... but that's another story entirely.

Links: pictures and information come from here, here,
here and here.


  1. This reminds me of the time I was staying at my grandfather's house and rattle snake entered his bathroom through the floor drain, or who knows he may have slithered through an open window! My grandpa lived outside of Florence in the deep desert! So try not to make him angry or scared right! What a fun filled fascinating adventure you have taken us on, and complete with amazing photos!

  2. THAT is a mega-bug!! Wow.
    I don't think I'd like to pick an argument with something like that. And finding one on the toilet, as you said, would give me the absolute willies.

  3. Cool photos Alexia! The tusks don't turn up until the males have had about 10 moults and they are about fully grown. But the fiercest weta we had was a female who we called "Xena". Man she was staunch. They tried to mate her with males but she was too much into spousal abuse and they had to keep her apart.

  4. Those cave wetas look like a large version of a camel cricket that we have in the U.S.

    Nice photos, Alexia.

  5. WOW!!!! i LOVED seeing these little creatures...well, really not SO LITTLE for insects!!

    they certainly look least the giant one cannot jump! the cave one looks pretty light on it's feet!
    AND it's good to hear that they're not really all that aggressive...just like to put on a show...waving & hissing. but do they get aggressive with each other? the males? fighting head to head with the tusks? like rhino's?!!

    very cool...thanks for the weta lesson Alexia!!

  6. Thanks everyone!

    Laura - yes the males do fight. And see Another Kiwi's comment above about a fighting female :)

    Lisa - I must admit I always turn on the light to go to the bathroom, since that incident. Though it would probably be more terrified than the person sitting on it!! :D

  7. Thank you for capturing the beauty of the weta ... it's not a creature I would consider beautiful at first glance (although the things that really skeeve me out are snakes), but you've captured something special here. Very cool :-)

    1. Thanks KLo! For me, the worst things are spiders. But weta, although their appearance is fearsome, are as you say, very cool :)


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