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Weird and Wonderful Museum: Tusked Weta

Weird and Wonderful Museum: Tusked Weta

by Melanie Cooper - Friday, 28 December 2012

If your holidays are taking you to Northland, the Coromandel or the East Cape you could come face-to-face with large, carnivorous tusked weta.

The Mercury Island Tusked Weta (Motuweta isolata). Only the males have tusks.

The Mercury Island Tusked Weta (Motuweta isolata). Only the males have tusks.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira

Unlike their primarily vegetarian weta kin, the tusked variety are carnivores – but fortunately their appetite only extends to worms and other insects so roaming North Island travellers needn’t fear being eaten.

For those staying in Auckland this summer, you can spot two of the rarest tusked weta without burrowing through leaves or fossicking in the bush. Auckland Museum’s Te Ao Turoa (our Maori Natural History Gallery) is home to two Mercury Island Tusked Weta (Motuweta isolata).

Mercury Island Tusked Weta were discovered just over 30 years ago, on a tiny island in the Mercury group, gaining the title of the country’s rarest weta. Population numbers have been boosted dramatically by a Department of Conservation breeding programme which you can learn more about in this episode of TVNZ's Meet the Locals and see these incredible insects in action.

The distinctive tusks on the jaw which give the weta their name are actually only found on the males and are used in fights with other males, to push, shove and ultimately try to flip their opponent.

When they’re not being used for violence, the tusks can be turned toward a bit of vocal posturing. A series of ridges near the tip of the tusks are rubbed together to make a shrill, rasping sound.

This pair was bred in captivity and their offspring were liberated on another Mercury Island to help ensure the species’ survival. Due to the tusked weta’s rarity there are very few reference specimens in insect collections and this pair represents two of the three specimens currently on public display.

  • Post by: Melanie Cooper

    Melanie believes everything starts with a good story. She is a freelance wordsmith, writer, publicist, and editor.

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