Six new alpine species of New Zealand’s most unusual insect – the wētā – have been discovered.
The new species were found living across the Southern Alps and were found by scientists from Massey University. Their discoveries were announced in a paper recently published in the European Journal of Taxonomy.
Wētā belong to the same group of insects like crickets and grasshoppers, and there are between 70 and 100 species of wētā endemic to New Zealand.
Wētā are wingless and nocturnal, and some, including the wētāpunga, are among the heaviest insects in the world – comparable to the weight of a sparrow.
As well as finding new species, scientists found that wētā are in danger. Their populations have suffered from the introduction of foreign pests and increasing habitat decline due to dairy farming.
Sixteen of New Zealand’s wētā species are at risk and the rest are classified as threatened or endangered.
Global warming is speeding up their decline, particularly for the elusive alpine wētā who live in the mountains.