Giant wētās find a new home

A giant wētā punga (Auckland Zoo)
A giant wētā punga (Auckland Zoo)

Over 300 creepy crawly wētā punga bred at Auckland Zoo will be released on an island within the Gulf Harbour today.

The nocturnal invertebrates are the largest of New Zealand's 11 giant wētā species and one of the world's heaviest insects. The largest ever recorded female wētā weighed in at 71 grams.

They will join more than 900 other wētā friends who were released on an island in The Noises group in June. The insects reach maturation after shedding their exoskeletons ten times, only living a further nine months afterwards.

"We're absolutely delighted to be managing the release of wētā punga [on the island]. This is prime real estate for these beautiful creatures to thrive and breed, which is what they desperately need," Auckland Zoo Ectotherms team leader Don McFarlane says.

The insects were once spread throughout Northland and Auckland but are now on New Zealand's critically endangered list and only found on Little Barrier Island.

The Department of Conservation (DOC), Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo have worked on a breeding recovery programme that establishes self-sustaining populations on islands throughout the Hauraki Gulf.

"Being able to successfully breed and release wētā punga to the wild is for myself and the Zoo team, living the dream," Mr McFarlane says.

"All up this year, we've released close to 1500, and have more animals in the process of hatching that, all going well, will be released onto Tiritiri Matangi, Motuora and The Noises in 2016."

The zoo will be collecting a small number of new wētās from Little Barrier to increase genetic diversity in the breed-and-release programme.

3 News