Summary: Weta insects are very large and heavy flightless insects that resemble a cross between a cricket and a cockroach.
The Weta insect refers to over 70 different species of crickets that are native to New Zealand. Weta crickets are also found in South Africa, Australia, Central, South and North America and are sometimes referred to as King Crickets. Their hind legs are larger than most crickets and grasshoppers and are typically covered in spines. Most species are wingless.
While some Weta species have evolved to eat vegetation, most feed on other invertebrates, which means they pose little threat to human crops. These creatures are capable of surviving a wide range in temperatures and are therefore found in a variety of different environments, including caves, grasslands, forests and urban areas. Because New Zealand had very few native mammals prior to the arrival of humans, the Weta has evolved to play a role in the ecosystem similar to that of mice and other rodents in other areas of the world. Several plant and animal species rely on the Weta for survival.
The female of the nocturnal Weta species can produce up to 300 eggs at a time, which typically hatch between three to five months later. Unlike some species of locusts and katydids, Weta crickets are not very social and are therefore not likely to form communities. Most Weta species tend to be aggressive, raising up, hissing and swaying back and forth when they feel threatened.
Giant Wetas comprise nearly one tenth of the Weta population and can grow to more than four inches in length, which does not include the span of their long antennae and legs. Giant Wetas belong to the genus Deinacrida, which translates to œterrible grasshopper. Also nocturnal, these insects hide underground during the day and come out to hunt after dark. Known to be heavier than a sparrow, these giants of the Weta species often become so heavy that they are unable to jump. Another species of Weta that inhabits the Poor Knights Islands off the coast of New Zealand can reach up to eight inches in length.
Although Weta crickets are not generally dangerous to humans, they have come to be thought of as pests, mostly due to their size and unsightly appearance. They typically do not bite or sting people, but they have been known to inflict painful scratches that can lead to infection. When approached by predators, Weta species have been known arc their hind legs in warning, but will generally retreat when given the chance.
Unlike some of their grasshopper, katydid and locust relatives, Weta crickets tend to be rare and antisocial and therefore even the herbivore species do not become populated enough to cause problems with crops or rangelands. Due to the fact that many species of Weta crickets are rare or even endangered, there is not much that can be done to control their populations. Instead, people who are repulsed by these unappealing insects are forced to simply look the other way.
Despite their gruesome appearance (or maybe because of it), Weta crickets are sometimes kept as pets. Crickets in general can be popular pets, especially in China. Because Weta cricket species tend to be rare, they are not as commonly kept as pets as some other cricket species, but they can be found in some pet suppliers or trapped in nature.