Worlds largest insect discovered in New Zealand?

New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island holds the unique distinction of being the home of the world’s largest insect species – the giant weta. This endangered bug, which resembles a very large cricket, can weigh as much as a small bird and has a wingspan that can exceed seven inches across. The creepy-critters were once common throughout New Zealand, but the introduction of rats, and other pests, by Europeans have all but eradicated the insects there.

The giant weta made headlines across the globe recently, when a former American park ranger by the name of Mark Moffett claimed to have found the largest weta ever documented. The story was accompanied by a picture of the creature happily nibbling away on a carrot while sitting in the palm of Moffett’s hand. But New Zealander’s who have seen the photo say the bug is actually average in size and probably not anywhere close to the biggest ever.

Moffett says that he, and two companions, searched the Little Barrier Island for two days before discovering the female weta that is in the photograph. When they did find her, they offered the carrot up as food, and she eagerly accepted the meal, despite the fact she was being held by a human. They let her eat long enough to get her fill and for them to snap the photos, before releasing her back into the wild. The images later turned up in the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper, which proclaimed it the “world’s biggest insect.”

But the kiwi’s aren’t sure what all the fuss is about. They say that the bug shown in Moffett’s photo is not exceptional in any way and that even feeding them carrots is not out of the norm. And while the creatures are indeed listed as endangered, they are said to number in the thousands both on Little Barrier and Motuora Islands. In fact, New Zealander Ruud Kleinpaste, who is a trustee of Little Barrier Island, says that it is not unusual to find them while hiking there. He does acknowledge that the publicity is good for the species however, making more people aware of their existence and the efforts made to prevent their extinction.

I’m not sure what part of this story is more unnerving. The fact that a giant carrot eating bug was found in New Zealand or that it is so common there that the locals aren’t even impressed. Still, the story is another reminder of all the amazing lifeforms that we share this planet with. That is, unless you can’t stand bugs, in which case you’re probably in favor of letting the giant weta disappear.

[Photo courtesy of The Telegraph]