Friday, June 15, 2012

The elusive cave weta

Cave weta male. Photo by Erica Prier.
Yes, our cave weta are still alive! Cave weta are naturally nocturnal and like to live in dark, damp places like caves and forests. Yes - forests. Cave weta do not stay strictly in caves and may spend a good portion of their time in vegetated areas at the entrance of the caves where they are often spotted.

In fact, in our exhibit, the weta spend more time hiding in the trees and underbrush of the small planted section at one end of the enclosure than they do in the rocky cave that makes up the rest of the enclosure. When they do venture into the cave, they stay in the small crevices near the damp peat rather than on the ceiling in clusters as you often see in pictures in the wild.

One of the challenges of keeping animals in captivity is creating an enclosure that can replicate the environmental conditions that the animal experiences in the wild in order for them to display their natural behaviours. This is a much greater challenge than you may think! For example, our weta like their enclosure to be cool - about 13-14 degrees celcius - and damp - a humidity of 75-80%. How do we know? It was in this range of temperature and humidity that we saw very special behaviours such as socialisation and breeding.

However, even if we think we're doing everything, sometimes animals just don't cooperate, which means we just have more to learn! Cave weta have not been kept in captivity on a scale such as we have in Te Awa, so we can't just follow instructions in a book, we have to be scientific investigators ourselves. We have to keep asking ourselves questions like "Does the season affect the amount of activity we see in the weta?" and we have to investigate these questions so that we can keep making the necessary changes to our enclosure so that visitors get the most worthwhile experience.

So even if you don't spot one of our handsome weta, know that behind the scenes we are working hard to learn more about these elusive insects and bring more knowledge to our visitors and the scientific community.

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