Nope, that’s not an alien. And it’s not a giant grasshopper either. But it has been referred to as a “demon grasshopper.”
It’s actually one of the biggest and heaviest insects in the world. So…what is it?
It’s called a weta. Which actually means “god of ugly things” in the language of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori. And, well, it’s not hard to see how it got that nickname.
There are several species of these guys, but the largest of them—the giant weta—is about the size of a gerbil. The heaviest ever recorded weighed 70 grams, which is three times the weight of a mouse. Yikes.
But, side note, it was a female and filled with eggs, so… y’know.
But still, giant weta are large by insect standards. And sadly, it’s not just their size that makes them terrifying. Weta also have huge and powerful mandibles.
They also aren’t afraid to scratch, which can lead to infection.
And when threatened, giant weta extend their back legs which bristle with spines.
They’re found in a wide variety of environments like grasslands, caves, shrub lands, and alpine regions. Nocturnal, a weta’s life revolves around finding shelter holes in which to spend the day.
And these could be anything from a second-hand hold that another bug made, to the inside of a hollow tree or stem. And while different species have different diets, most weta are predators or omnivores and eat other invertebrates. But the tree and giant weta prefer to eat leaves, flowers, and fruit.
Socially speaking, male weta are typically in charge of a harem of females, and if challenged by another mature male, hold onto your hats.
This will usually result in a territorial fight in which the male weta with the strongest mandibles and largest head wins. Weta only live in New Zealand where, without mammalian predators, they were able to thrive and grow in size for centuries.
That is until Europeans brought cats and rats over, which has since decimated the weta population. Their weight makes it difficult for them to run away from predators, instead favoring to intimidate by hissing.
But despite the weta’s scare tactics, many species have been categorized as endangered. Which is unfortunate considering how long these guys have been around, virtually unchanged by evolution.
We could learn a lot from the weta, even if it’s got a face only a mother could love.
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