People in Wellington, Sydney, and Toronto, and on Vancouver Island have been researching my ginormous bug. The internet is a wonderful thing. And so are geeky friends!
The consensus is that my bug is a Tree Weta – they’re found in the lower half of the North Island and the top of the South Island and grow up to 40mm in length. They’re not particularly aggressive, but will bite if threatened. And apparently the males hiss and spit if you upset them. Charming. They’re nocturnal, so they don’t have too many run-ins with the people around them.
Wikipedia has a fascinating article about them which informs me that the plural of weta is weta, and suggests that they’re the New Zealand version of a mouse:
New Zealand had no land mammals (apart from native bats) before humans arrived, and ecological niches occupied by mammals in other parts of the world were taken by non-mammals. The weta’s place in the ecosystem is comparable to that held by mice and other rodents elsewhere in the world. For example, they are hunted by an owl, the morepork, New Zealand’s only surviving native owl. Weta pass seeds of some plant species through their digestive tracts unharmed, thus acting as effective seed dispersers. It is yet to be seen how decreases in weta populations are affecting native plant species that may rely on the weta’s help.
And a friend sent me a link to a wonderful website about New Zealand bugs – it includes lots of pictures and descriptions to help you identify the critter you’ve discovered in your backyard. If you go there, check out the picture of the tusked weta sitting on some brave soul’s hand – it’s the biggest bug you’ve ever seen.