Weta minute - he's a wee 'un

By Imogen Crispe

Pictures of a giant weta eating a carrot have gone global, but locals are unimpressed. Photo / APN
Pictures of a giant weta eating a carrot have gone global, but locals are unimpressed. Photo / APN

International media are calling it the biggest weta ever found, but New Zealand experts are urging them to get a sense of perspective.

American researcher Mark Moffett fed a carrot to a giant weta on a recent visit to New Zealand's Little Barrier Island and the meeting has turned into major news in the Northern Hemisphere.

Pictures of the weta, or wetapunga, and its carrot have featured on websites around the world with headings including, "World's biggest insect".

The story has run in The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Mirror, the Huffington Post and The Times of India.

New Zealand insect expert, bug man Ruud Kleinpaste, a trustee of Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust, has played down the significance of the find.

"There's nothing unusual to find these weta," Kleinpaste said, though he thought the publicity for the species could be a good thing. "I think it's wonderful as long as weta get the attention and not that idiot American."

Kleinpaste thought Moffett, a researcher at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, might be a "poser" as it was normal to feed weta carrots. And though giant weta were endangered, Little Barrier Island and Motuora Island were home to thousands and thousands of the creatures. They mostly lived in creek beds or trees, Kleinpaste said.

A giant weta breeding programme has been going for two years at Butterfly Creek in Auckland by experienced weta breeder Paul Barrett and they will introduce 25 to Tiritiri Matangi Island next weekend.

Kleinpaste said he saw wetapunga on Little Barrier Island every time he went there. "If you keep your eyes open you'll see them."

He said wetapunga were nice, non-aggressive creatures, but "if you really piss them off they will cut you in half".

Kleinpaste said wetapunga were the heaviest insect in the world, and the heaviest one recorded was 72g, bigger than the 71g specimen Moffett claimed to have found.

- Herald on Sunday

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