Weta are fascinating and bizarre animals which, contrary to popular belief, are not unique to New Zealand. Although the name ‘weta’ is a New Zealand exclusive, these flightless, cricket-like insects are found in many parts of the world.
However, due to the absence of mammalian predators, New Zealand became a weta paradise with several lineages evolving and diversifying into over 100 species, classified in two families: the Anostostomatidae and the Rhaphidophoridae.
The very large size and ferocious appearance of many New Zealand weta attract great public interest, as well as the attention of many scientists who have studied their classification, biology, ecology, behaviour, and genetics (Field, 2001).
Weta are elusive creatures. They are most active at night and need to find suitable shelter during the day. New Zealand weta are usually grouped according to their form and structure, size, and ecological habits into five categories: tree weta, giant weta, cave weta, ground weta, and tusked weta (Gibbs, 1998).
Several species, especially in the giant weta and the tusked weta groups, have become highly endangered and mainly survive in uninhabited outlying islands. Most of the mainland populations of these species were wiped out by mammalian predators introduced by humans.
Te Papa's Weta Collection contains hundreds of specimens - some preserved dry and others in alcohol. They cover all the known species of tree, giant, and tusked weta, and a great number of cave and ground weta species, including twenty primary types. A good number of weta can be viewed in Te Papa's natural history exhibitions Mountains to the Sea and Awesome Forces.
This large collection of specimens and has been used by dedicated entomologists over the last twenty years for intensive research of weta.
Field, L H, ed. 2001. The biology of wetas, king crickets and their allies. Wallingford and New York: CAB International Publishing.
Gibbs, G. 1998. New Zealand weta - The Reed Species Guides. Auckland: Reed Books.