Kia ora New Zealand!

In just over one month, Aotearoa will be my new home!
The blogging has been slow lately, but I promise it is for a good reason!  My wife has accepted a Ph.D. position at the University of Waikato, and we are preparing for a move to New Zealand!  Kiri (whose name is Māori) will be studying urban restoration ecology and I am excited to go on this adventure with her.

As you can see on the map, New Zealand is geographically isolated - and it has been for a looooong time.  Because of this, a number of animals have evolved there that are drastically different from anything that can be found elsewhere in the world.  The only native mammals on the islands are bats, so many other creatures fill the ecological roles that would more typically be filled by something furrier.  One group that I am particularly looking forward to meeting again are the wetas:
A tree weta in the family Anostostomatidae
These insects look a bit like crickets, but they are in their own different family - to an entomologist like me that automatically makes them cool.  On an island with no rodents, these guys evolved to fill the ecological role (or niche) of mice and rats!  Accordingly, some are very large:
Giant weta... babies.  Photo credit: Kiri Cutting
Now that's what I'm talking about!
  Deinacrida sp. Giant Weta, New Zealand. Photo credit: Kiri Cutting
Unfortunately, each group of humans that reached the New Zealand islands brought new invasive species with them, including rats and stoats which have destroyed populations of wetas and many other New Zealand endemic species.  Some species have only persisted because of the relative safety of offshore islands.  This is the case for the tuatara:
Male tuatara, New Zealand  Photo credit: Kiri Cutting
Tuatara look like lizards but they are a separate, ancient, and unique group.  They did just fine until humans added a bunch of species to their home.  Recently, researchers have had some success reintroducing them to parts of mainland New Zealand that have been painstakingly cleared of introduced mammals.  Kiri had an opportunity to help out with a tuatara study a few years ago:
My kind of woman.  Photo credit: unknown
 These are just a few of the unique and wonderful things that I hope to see over our next few years in New Zealand.  I'm looking forward to sharing more photos from the "Land of the Long White Cloud"
See you in 2013!


lauranicole at: December 30, 2012 at 2:13 AM said...

The giant weta picture made me cringe!

Samantha at: December 30, 2012 at 8:39 AM said...

Kiri is so smokin'! Also that creature makes me a little bit sick.

Unknown at: December 30, 2012 at 9:30 AM said...

I should have mentioned - those wetas are the size of a hamster, but way more docile... very sweet little creatures really. I agree about Kiri : )

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