Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creature Feature: Giant Weta Bug.

You know what people like Greenpeace say about protecting the rainforest? That there might be a million different species there that we've never seen before, and some of them might cure cancer or whatever deadly disease have you? They're right. 100% right. New species are discovered every day, and while it's not likely that one will magically have a cure for AIDS or whatnot, there is always that one weird species that will break records.

This bug is a Little Barrier Island Giant Weta (Deinacrida heteracantha). She is infamous for potentially displacing the African Goliath Beetle for the title of "world's largest insect."  All wetas are native to New Zealand, and this girl is no exception. Giants wetas in general are highly endangered. They fill the niche of rodents where native; you decide which is scarier.

First off, what is a weta, anyways?  There are roughly 70 different kinds of weta, all of which are native to the islands of New Zealand.The name is Maori for, umm, this particular type of bug.  They used to be much more plentiful, with fossil records extending into Eurasia. Now, the island weta are under threat by rats and other introduced mammals brought by European settlers.

The giant weta in particular is the largest, or at least heaviest, insect in the world. It weighs 71g, tops. For those of you who either hate metric (why?) or need a better idea of how heavy that is...that's three mice. For something that doesn't even have a spinal cord and lives on land, that's pretty big. Yes, this is yet another example of insular gigantism.

This particular female giant weta broke records in 2011. She's the chart-topper at 71g. Granted, she was carrying eggs, but giant wetas in general are still pretty big bugs. Most adult Goliath beetles top out at around If any bug steals limelight from Africa's Goliath beetle, it'd be a giant weta. If nothing else, it's the largest weta. Goliath beetles still average 80g as larvae.

 The good news? This bug is a vegetarian. Or, at the very least, the heavy female found in 2011 had a particular fondness for carrots. Giant wetas are seriously docile; even when food is not present, they will allow themselves to be handled. There are a lot more "perfectly safe" creatures in New Zealand than in Australia, and this giant, cricket-like creature is among them. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Oh, and then there's Weta Workshop....but more on one of their works tomorrow. ;)

P.S.- In honor of Thanksgiving, "They Actually Eat That" will take place on Thursday of this week instead of Wednesday.

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