Common Kiwi insects are really great, writes Lindy Laird

A female giant weta.
A female giant weta.

WONDERFUL WĒTA

Wētā live nowhere else in the world. These amazing insects — there are five main species — can hiss, bite, wave their spiky legs and leap up to three metres. One species has curved tusks for combat, most have ears on their knees, and a giant wēta can weigh more than a sparrow.

They are omnivorous – they eat vegetation and small invertebrates, competing for the grub with introduced species like mice and rats.
Tree wētā are the most common, living in native bush and backyard gardens throughout most of the country. The female's ovipositor for laying egg looks like a large stinger, adding to her scary looks.

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One giant wētā genus name is Deinacrida, which means demon or terrible locust. Māori called them wētā punga – the 'god of ugly things'.

Wētā belong to the group of insects that includes crickets, locusts and grasshoppers, but wētā have been around for 190 million years – longer than tuatara.

The sainted Sir David Attenborough likes them so who's to argue?
The sainted Sir David Attenborough likes them so who's to argue?

GOOD BUGGERS

Despite their bad rap, centipedes and millipedes can be good buggers in the garden.

Millipedes have two pairs of legs from each body segment, while centipedes have only one pair per segment. The body of centipedes is also fairly flat and the millipede's more rounded. Millipedes feed mostly on decaying plant material, although sometimes take a fancy to young seedlings, eating the leaves, stems and roots. Centipedes are carnivorous and feed on insects and spiders.

New Zealand's longest insect species is a dwarf compared with stick insects found in some other countries. Australia has around 150 species, the longest reaching 25cm.

Even that giant is small compared with two species from the Malay peninsula, which have been measured at around 35cm long. Some stick insects grow as thick as a finger and a species found on New Guinea is popularly called the policeman's truncheon.

While stick insects are so fascinating it's hard to believe they're real, insects with names like fluffy nymphs, stink bugs and passionvine hoppers could be descriptions from a fantastical Roald Dahl book.

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Instead they're just the pesky insects we either put up with, use biological warfare against, or resort to spraying poison with all the collateral damage that also entails. The good news is, many poisons are organic, natural plant or mineral based products.

An Australian farmer looks through a windscreen splattered with dead locusts.
An Australian farmer looks through a windscreen splattered with dead locusts.

WINDSCREEN WIPE OUT

A widely used, unscientific experiment to gauge insect numbers in a world increasingly hostile to them is called the windshield test.

Apparently baby boomers are the best judges of this anecdotal non-science. The boomers remember bug splattered windshields - as well as wēta crawling onto them every time they went into the wilder parts of the garden. Do kids see wēta often these days?

But back to the splatter test, in which several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most reported few squashed bugs.

Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises are not scientific experiments at all. And car enthusiasts just as quickly point out today's vehicles also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them.

The bustling streets of Bangkok's Silom district are lined with street food stalls, with this one selling fried grubs, cockroaches, crickets etc.
The bustling streets of Bangkok's Silom district are lined with street food stalls, with this one selling fried grubs, cockroaches, crickets etc.

GRUB'S UP

Due to increasing global demand for protein, insects may become a staple in humans' diet.

Already a traditional food in many Asian countries, whole-roasted crickets and the like are gaining traction as a protein-rich snack in the western world where haute cuisine restaurants experiment with all kinds of insect based dishes.

International researchers say there's still "an overwhelming lack of knowledge" concerning the ecological sustainability of the emerging, multimillion-dollar insects-as-food industry. It could yet lead to some imbalance in the food chain or ecology.

Putting crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers and their ilk on the home menu is unlikely to become a popular or effective way to deal with a garden or pasture insect in already protein-rich Northland.