We're proud to be returning wētāpunga to the Bay of Islands after a 180-year absence!

We've partnered with Project Island Song (a partnership between the Guardians of the Bay of Islands, Te Rawhiti hapu (Ngati Kuta and Patukeha), and the Department of Conservation) in an exciting three-year reintroduction programme that kicked off last week with the initial release of 128 wētāpunga to Urupukapuka, Moturua and Motuarohia Islands.

While historically wētāpunga were once widespread on mainland Aotearoa, over the years their range was reduced to one Island - Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier. With support from Ngati Manuhiri and Department of Conservation, we've been able to breed and release more than 5,000 of these giant wētā and this Bay of Islands partnership marks the six, seventh and eight Islands that we're restoring these incredible ectotherms to.

“This Northland wētāpunga reintroduction will be the first outside of the Hauraki Gulf and now brings to eight, the number of pest-free islands we’ve been involved in returning these extraordinary creatures to,” says Auckland Zoo Ectotherms team leader, Don McFarlane. “It is so fantastic that Project Island Song is now championing and joining efforts to recover and ensure a future for wētāpunga - a species that plays a really vital role in maintaining our forest ecosystems through the plants it eats and seeds it then distributes - that in turn benefit so many  of our other precious native species.”

Wētāpunga play a vital role in maintaining our forest ecosystems through the plants they eat and seeds they distribute, which in turn benefits so many other precious native species. It's through conservation partnerships like this that we're able to ensure their future.

Wētāpunga Fast Facts

  1. Wētāpunga have been around more than 190 million years, around as long as our endemic tuatara, and have changed little over this time.
  2. There are over 100 endemic species of wētā in New Zealand, including 11 species of giant wētā, of which wētāpunga are the largest
  3. Adult female wētāpunga are heavier than males and on average weigh approximately 40 grams. The largest recorded female (gravid; with eggs) weighed 71 grams – heavier than your average house sparrow!
  4. Females will lay eggs throughout their adult life, generally producing between 100 - 300 cigar-shaped eggs which remain underground for more than 8 months before hatching.
  5. Wētāpunga go through 10 development stages or ‘instars’ before reaching adulthood, meaning they shed or moult their exoskeleton (outer covering) an incredible 10 times!  They achieve adulthood in approximately 15 – 24 months and can begin breeding one to two months after maturity. Adults can live for over a year, meaning their total lifespan from egg to adult is about three years.
  6. Wētāpunga are nocturnal and feed mostly on fresh leaves and prefer native plants with large leaves such as karaka, karamu, māmāngi, māhoe, and kohekohe.
  7. Premier pooper! For its size, the wētāpunga produces one of the largest poo pellets of any insects. It’s nutrient-rich and plays a vital role in the forest ecosystem by helping to germinate, fertilise and distribute plant seeds.