'Gentle' giant weta get new home

NESTING INSTINCT?: A giant female weta examines the hair of EcoWorld Aquarium manager Regan Russell.
NESTING INSTINCT?: A giant female weta examines the hair of EcoWorld Aquarium manager Regan Russell.

Regan Russell, manager of EcoWorld Aquarium on Picton foreshore loves giant weta.

He has no problem with one climbing up his face and inspecting his hair as they are just "gentle giants," he said.

"They are not like tree weta that have big jaws and tend to bite quite hard."

But he was disconcerted when one weta that was crawling on his face let its feelings known when he removed it.

"It had a little hissing fit close to my ear. It must have liked it there and didn't want to be moved," he said.

Giant weta are defensive rather than aggressive.

If they are really disturbed, they raise their legs and quickly flick them down in the hope of spiking a predator's face.

Or they choose the option of lying on their backs and playing dead.

Department of Conservation officer Mike Aviss of the Sounds area office dropped off five breeding pairs of Cook Strait giant weta at the aquarium on Monday evening.

They came from from Stephens Island, which is off the tip of d'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

The aquarium has a special enclosure so people can see the weta in their burrows and Mr Russell hopes they will breed.

Giant weta mainly eat plants in nature, but will consume insects as well.

In captivity, they have been known to eat ox heart, dog sausage and even carrots, Mr Russell said. Mr Aviss had earlier taken another five breeding pairs of the giant weta to Tui Nature Reserve in Pelorus Sound.

Ellen Plaisier of the reserve said they were thrilled to get them and they too hoped they would breed in their enclosure that is full of native plants, half-rotten logs and forest litter.

Weta is from the Maori name of wetapunga, which was given to the giant weta.

Wetapunga translates roughly as "God of ugly things".

The Marlborough Express