Successful wetapunga recovery programme returns giants to Hauraki Gulf islands

Chris Green *1, Paul Barrett 2, Ben Goodwin 3

1 Department of Conservation
2 Butterfly Creek
3 Auckland Zoo

New Zealand's largest giant weta species, the wetapunga (Deinacrida hetercantha), was previously distributed throughout Northland and Auckland regions before undergoing a dramatic decline.  Habitat loss and exotic predators resulted in a restricted distribution to just one relict population on Te Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier Island. Wetapunga are flightless, nocturnal, arboreal and browse on a range of broadleaf tree and shrub species. To secure the species a recovery programme aimed to set up additional island populations in the Hauraki Gulf.  However, field surveys revealed too few adults to facilitate direct translocations to new sites. Thus, only small numbers were collected to establish captive breeding populations at Butterfly Creek and Auckland Zoo to provide progeny for release. Research during captive rearing revealed a 2 - 3 year life cycle involving 11 instars.  Reared wetapunga were released on Tiritiri Matangi Island and Motuora Island on 3 occasions during 2010 - 2015 at 3 separate sites on each island.  Baited tracking tunnels and visual assessments have verified establishment on both islands.

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