Friday, April 13, 2012

Insects in New Zealand

Besides great birding, there are some very cool insects in New Zealand.

First off, since we’ve posted monarchs from everywhere else, you might as well see one from New Zealand too. My 2nd cousin Oscar, who is five, was rearing monarch caterpillars. Whenever I stopped at their house, the monarchs were in a different life stage. First I saw tiny caterpillars, about 5mm long. After three weeks, there were a few chrysalises and another was about 5cm and hanging from the leaf in a “J” shape.  The next morning, there was a chrysalis. I left and returned about a week later. The chrysalis was becoming clear, and you can see the monarch’s orange and black wings through it. I had to get on a plane before I could watch it emerge.

Monarch about to emerge from chrysalis, Wellington, NZ

I managed get a bad photograph a dragonfly. Most of them are too fast for me. This is probably a male Blue-spotted Darner. I found it in Miranda in a salt marsh, but you could find this species in Australia as well.  

Adversaeshna brevistyla, Miranda, North Island

In addition to being home to insects from elsewhere in the world, New Zealand has plenty of endemics.

Wetas are basically large nocturnal flightless grasshoppers endemic to New Zealand.  I saw them in the daytime.  They are a very ancient group of insects, and apparently haven’t changed much in the last 100 million years. The Maori word “weta” means something like “demon grasshopper” or “god of ugly things.” Giant wetas are endangered vegetarians too docile to fight and too heavy (at 70 grams!) to jump away from introduced mainland predators. I didn't see any of these big guys--they are pretty much confined to the offshore islands. 

 I did see a young tree weta, probably the Wellington Tree Weta. Check out these crazy long antennae. Tree wetas are fairly aggressive and as adults have big heads with impressive mouthparts, but this is a pretty harmless young one.

Hemideina crassidens, Picton, South Island

I also stumbled upon a cave weta in the woods. Cave wetas are closely related to camel crickets. They don’t have tympanum, but are good at sensing ground vibrations through their feet.  They like caves and other dark places. The one I found was sitting on a path just below tree line.  This is one seriously awesome insect.  

Cave Weta at Tongariro National Park, North Island

Tiger beetles are beautiful and awesome predators.  New Zealand is home to about a dozen species, and this cooperative one that I managed to photograph is called a common tiger beetle.  Lots of these guys were hanging out on some gravel walking paths around the Tongariro National Park, within viewing distance of Mt. Doom. 

Cicindela tuberculata, Tongariro National Park, North Island

I am very good at finding the most common things around, so here’s a photo of a Red Damselfly resting on a dock on Lake Mapourika, South Island. These guys are probably the most common damselfly in NZ. They are native and widespread. 
Xanthocnemis zealanica, Lake Mapourika, South Island

Cicadas spend most of their lives underground as larvae (we all know about the periodical cicadas, some of which spend 17 years underground) sucking on plant roots. When the time and weather conditions are right, they climb up onto some vegetation and out of their old skin.  Like butterflies emerging from a chrysalis, they spend a few hours pumping blood through their wings to straighten them out after being all squished during development. Here is an example of a cicada whose wings were probably stuck in its old exoskeleton when it was trying to do this:

Amphisalta zelandica, Bluff, South Island

As adults, cicadas only live a few days to a few weeks. They die after mating and laying eggs.  This beauty is found from treeline to the sea on the North and South Islands, but is likely a different subspecies on the South island. Thanks to UConn for photographic keys. Hope I got it right. 

Kikihia subalpine, Milford Sound, South Island

I don't know much about weevils, but they're interesting and widespread. In this particular alpine meadow, I found many of these weevils in little tiny flowers.

Weevil on the summit of Mount Stokes, Marlborough Sounds, South Island

Happy Bugging! 

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