NZ's largest wētā returns to mainland after near extinction

Source: 1News

Wētāpunga are coming back from the brink thanks to the dedicated staff at Auckland's Butterfly Creek.

There are 70 different species of the native New Zealand insect, 11 of which are giant species. However, all but one is protected by law due to their risk of extinction.

"They definitely provoke a response in people, whether that be fascination or fear," Kiwi House manager Rebecca Moyle told Seven Sharp.

Butterfly Creek's breeding programme, conceived 13 years ago, began with just 18 wētāpunga from Little Barrier Island. The programme, which was joined by staff at Auckland Zoo in 2012, now produces dozens of wētā for controlled release.

The giant wētā lay their eggs deep into the soil and when they hatch, "out the baby comes to the surface", manager Paul Barrett explained.

"Some days we have up to 50 hatches, and some days nothing at all."

The "tiny giants" are then relocated to two islands in the Hauraki Gulf, Motuora Island and Tiritiri Matangi.

Now, for the first time ever, the insects have been released back on the mainland, at Shakespear Regional Park north of Auckland.

The wētāpunga had typically been found in Northland and Auckland, but it "literally just disappeared because of massive habitat loss and the introduction of a number of mammalian predators", Barrett explained.

"We are very hopeful that we can actually assist a species after we've made such a mess for it in the first place."