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Jurassic gerbil-sized insect would make a pretty cool pet


Katie Jones
Digital Reporter

Saturday, June 6, 2015, 11:28 AM - They may not be the cuddliest critters around, but the giant insects known as weta have a certain appeal. If you like that sort of thing.

Weta are the largest and heaviest insects on Earth, and more than 70 different species are found in a variety of environments across New Zealand.

The insect can grow to over 10 centimetres in length and weighs in at about 70 grams, roughly the size of a gerbil.

The weta are distant cousins of the cricket and grasshopper, but have evolved differently due to the isolated nature of their island environment. 

A lack of terrestrial mammals and predators give the weta free run on the ground. 

However, unlike crickets and other bug relatives, wetas cannot fly or even jump due to their large size and weight.

While some species prey on other insects, most weta feed on leaves, flowers and fruit.

Weta have large mandibles that can inflict painful bites if they feel threatened or provoked. But for the most part, weta are a gentle giant. 

The 'dinosaur' bugs are considered iconic in their native New Zealand and are commonly spotted and photographed.

Despite their significant size, the weta do have the potential to grow even bigger. 

But declining atmospheric oxygen levels, possibly due to a drop in sea level and a drying out of land masses, have stunted their growth over the last few million years.

New Zealand's Department of Conservation consider 16 out of 70 species to be at risk, due to a loss of natural habitat.

The word weta is derived from the language of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.

The epic insects inspired the names of Weta Workshops and Weta Digital, the visual effects companies behind films such as King Kong and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Source: Wired

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