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see also Weta Digital film effects company

The Weta family comprises of over one hundred (generally) large insect species native to the New Zealand archipelago. Their name comes from the Maori language, but has acclimatised itself in New Zealand English, so the plural "wetas" may appear. Their physical appearance is that of a cross between a cockroach and a cricket with the addition of large legs.

Weta can be found in environments ranging from mountainous conditions to urban gardens by virtue of their ability to cope with wide variances in temperature. Notably, they are both nocturnal and flightless. Their diet can consist of leaves, other insects, fungi, dead animals and fruit.

About a tenth of the species of Weta belong to the Giant Weta species, most of which are generally significantly larger than other Wetas, despite their already being large by insect standards. A Giant Weta can have a body length in excess of 8 cm not inclusive of its lengthy legs and antennae, and weigh more than 70 grams, making it both one of the largest insects in the world and heavier than a sparrow. Giant Weta tend to be less social and more passive than 'standard' Wetas. Giant Weta are classified in the genus Deinacrida, which which is Latin for demon grasshopper.

The sixty species of Cave Weta have characteristics including extra-long antennae, longer legs, a passive demeanour, deafness and quietness. Cave Weta may be active within the confines of their caves during the daytime. Cave Weta are classified in the genus Gymnoplectron.

Giant Weta, along with the Tree, Ground and Tusked Weta, are classified in the Anostostomatidae (or Stenopelmatidae) family. Cave Weta are classified in the Rhaphidophoridae family.

Many species of Weta are rare and endangered, Giant Weta being found primarily only on small islands off the coast of the main islands. One recently-discovered species is only known to exist in a single location. Introduced pests and habitat destruction have all contributed to their decline. That they have existed largely-unchanged from the Mesozoic era until modern times is probably a result of the absense of native predators of this nature. In this respect, they could be compared with the ancient tuatara. Their place in the food chain is comparable with that held by mice and other rodents elsewhere in the world. Notably, like their foreign mouse-equivalents they also are hunted by the (native) owl: the Morepork.

In the absence of any land snakes in New Zealand, Weta have come to represent locally for New Zealanders the revulsion at things that creep and crawl in the dark: thus their place in folklore seems secure.

While Weta do not pose a risk of stinging or biting people, they are able to inflict painful stratches with the potential of dangerous infection. They are known to arc their hind legs into the air in warning to foes.

External links:

For the New Zealand band, see Weta (band).

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