Deinacrida heteracantha, also known as the Little Barrier Island giant weta or wetapunga, is a species of insect in the family Anostostomatidae that has no wings. It is endemic to New Zealand, naturally surviving now only on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island. It was formerly found on the mainland (see Trewick & Morgan-Richards (2004: 187, fig. 1B) for details of early records). It was redescribed under the synonymous name Hemideina gigantea by Colenso (1881), based on a specimen collected 'in a small low wood behind Paihia, Bay of Islands', in 1838. This specimen is still preserved in the collection of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and can be seen here. Records of this species from the North Island mainland at Mahoenui (Watt, 1963) were later recognised as a distinct species, described as new by Gibbs (1999), as Deinacrida mahoenui.
One female specimen holds the record for the heaviest living adult insect ever documented. It weighed 71g (2.5 oz), three times heavier than the average house mouse, and was more than 85mm (3.4 in) long. However, this was a captive eggbound female that is not representative of the species. Usually female D. hereracantha would not be more than half this weight.
Captive breeding and release
Since 2008 the Department of Conservation has been involved in a captive breeding and release programme to mitigate the risk of having the entire population resident on one island. Wetapunga captured on Hauturu/Little Barrier Island have been successfully bred in captivity at Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo. The descendants have been released onto Motuora and Tiritiri Matangi Islands. Additionally adults from Hauturu/Little Barrier Island have been transferred directly to Motuora. It is hoped that the released wetapunga will eventually build up self-sustaining populations on these additional predator free islands. A juvenile has been captured on Tiritiri Matangi Island in the area where the first population was released. This can only be a descendent of the initial translocated population of 25 individuals released in 2010. Individuals translocated onto Tiritiri Matangi island in 2014 have been observed mating.
- Colenso, W. 1881: On some new and undescribed species of New Zealand insects of the orders Orthoptera and Coleoptera. Transactions and proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 14: 277-280. [publication date: 1882?] BUGZ
- Gibbs, G.W. 1999: Four new species of giant weta, Deinacrida (Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae: Deinacridinae) from New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 29(4): 307-324. ISSN: 0303-6758 doi:10.1080/03014223.1999.9517600
- Trewick, S.A.; Morgan-Richards, M. 2004: Phylogenetics of New Zealand's tree, giant and tusked weta (Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae): evidence from mitochondrial DNA. Journal of Orthoptera research, 13(2): 185-196. ISSN 1082-6467 JSTOR
- Watt, J.C. 1963: The rediscovery of a giant weta, Deinacrida heteracantha, on the North Island mainland. New Zealand entomologist, 3(2): 9-13. ISSN: 0077-9962 BUGZ
- World Conservation Monitoring Centre 1996. Deinacrida heteracantha. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 9 August 2007.
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