Most people love to hate the wētā – a grotesque insect with a fondness for dark places. Over 100 different species live in a variety of environments throughout New Zealand, from the mountains to the sea, and from abandoned mines to suburban gardens.
Full story by George Gibbs
Main image: A giant wētā
The Short Story
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What is a wētā?
Wētā are large, spiny insects that are found in dark, damp places in gardens and bush throughout New Zealand. Be sure to check that gumboot before you put it on – a wētā may be hiding inside!
Wētā are related to grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and katydids. Like these insects, they have powerful hind legs for jumping.
New Zealand has over 100 different species of wētā, in five main groups.
These common wētā are found in most regions of New Zealand. They like to live in groups, and make their homes in the hollow parts of trees.
Tree wētā communicate by scraping their hind legs against the side of their body, making a chirping sound. Other wētā hear the sound through ears that are on the sides of their front legs, just below their knees.
It takes one to two years for a wētā to become an adult. An adult tree wētā is 4–6 centimetres long. They usually live for another six to ten months.
Giant wētā live on the ground, under rocks and leaves. This makes them easy targets for predators. Giant wētā have not survived in areas where predators such as rats and cats have been introduced.
Wētāpunga is the most impressive giant wētā species – females have bodies up to 7.5 centimetres long, and their back legs can be 13 centimetres long.
Ground wētā live alone in burrows in the soil. They are carnivorous and spend their nights hunting for insects to eat.
Mature male tusked wētā have impressive tusks for fighting. They ram their opponents with them.
Also known as jumping wētā, cave wētā have small bodies, very long legs and antennae. They can leap up to 2 metres. They often gather in dark, damp shelters in caves or forests.