Weta,like other insects,are the children of Tane. However, early Maori thought that they were ugly and called them “punga”-the spirit of ugliness.
Even nowadays lots of people don’t like creepy crawly things but they deserve to be here just as much as you or I.
Next time you have the chance to see a weta up close take time to see what gentle marvellous creatures they are. Afterall, until people introduced predators such as rats and cats weta only had a few natural enemies such as morepork and tuatara.
What do they look like?
There are 5 main groups of weta. Tree weta, Ground weta, Cave weta, Giant weta, Tusked weta.
Being insects they all have 6 legs, a head , thorax and abdomen. Weta look very much like big strong grasshoppers or crickets with long antennae. Their body protected by a shiny black/brown exoskeleton.
Male weta have much larger heads than females and more fearsome looking jaws.
Females have a long ovipositor(egg laying tube) that looks like a stinger at the rear of her body.
Just inside the front legs of most weta types is a pair of holes- their ears.
Many weta are very good at jumping.
When you grow bigger all you need to do is buy bigger clothes but each time a weta grows it has to shed its skin. Unlike people insects have their skeleton on the outside of their bodies. This exoskeleton offers protection but it also means that in order to grow bigger the insect must wriggle its way out of this old skeleton. At first the new skeleton is soft to enable the insect to wriggle and squirm but this soon hardens up.
Where do they live?
Tree weta live in holes in trees . (Or maybe your firewood pile!) This home is called a gallery. They especially like the hole ridden native putaputaweta (meaning many many weta).
Ground weta live in burrows in the ground. They do climb trees for food.
Cave weta may be found in sea coast caves and also hollow tree trunks, under houses, tunnels and under stones.
Tusked weta are extrememly rare and ground dwelling.
Giant weta are seldom found anywhere but island sanctuaries. Too big to jump these amazing creatures have been decimated by rats.
In spring/summer the weta mate. Tree weta males may have a group of females sharing a hole. The male has to fight off other males with his jaws and spiked legs. In autumn the females lay their eggs in the ground 6-10 at a time. Overall laying up to 3oo eggs in a lifetime.
The following spring the babies hatch and grow.
What do they eat?
Depending on the type of weta they tend to be either carnivorous or herbivorous. Tree and Giant weta are mostly herbivorous. They enjoy leaves, lichen,seed heads, fruit ,flowers.
Ground and tusked weta are carnivorous and eat small invertebrates, worms and snails.
In the Night Garden
Weta are nocturnal. They feed, breed and lay eggs at night. The lovely “chirruping”sound made by rasping their spiny back legs over their bodies fills the evening garden.
Meet and Greet
If you would like to study a weta up close in their natural environment look for possible galleries during the day. Later at night take a torch and very quietly make a visit.
A special weta motel can be made and fitted to a tree. These hollowed out blocks of wood can be opened up carefully to see who lives inside.