The weta family comprises around 70 insect species endemic to the New Zealand archipelago. They are large by insect standards, some species among the largest and heaviest in the world. Their physical appearance is that of a cross between a cockroach and a cricket with the addition of large legs. Their name (strictly, wētā) comes from a word in the Māori language, meaning "god of ugly things",
New Zealand had no native land mammals apart from native bats before humans arrived. Ecological niches that were filled by mammals in other parts of the world were filled by native fauna in New Zealand. The weta’s place in the ecosystem is comparable to that held by mice and other rodents elsewhere in the world. For example, like their foreign mouse equivalents, they are hunted by an owl: in this case the Morepork, New Zealand’s only surviving native owl. Weta also pass seeds of some plant species through their digestive tracts unharmed, thus acting as seed dispersers. It is yet to be seen how decreases in weta populations are affecting native plant species that rely on the weta's help.
By virtue of their ability to cope with variations in temperature, weta can be found in a variety of environments including alpine, forests, grasslands, caves, shrub lands and urban gardens. They are nocturnal and flightless, with a diet consisting of leaves, other insects, fungi, dead animals, and fruit.
Weta can bite. Tree weta bites are particularly common. They can also inflict painful scratches with the potential of infection. Weta are known to arc their hind legs into the air in warning to foes.
Weta have survived virtually unchanged since the Mesozoic era, possibly because they had few native predators. In this respect, they can be compared with the tuatara. Fossilized weta have been found in Australia, although they do not exist there now. This proves they were present in ancient Gondwanaland before New Zealand separated from it
Giant, tree, ground, and tusked weta are all members of the family Anostostomatidae (traditionally in the Stenopelmatidae, but recently separated). Cave weta are members of the family Rhaphidophoridae, in a different Ensiferan superfamily
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