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Mike Locke via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

10 Intense Facts About the Giant Weta

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Mike Locke via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The giant weta is one of the biggest insects on Earth, easily dwarfing most bugs and even some small rodents. Here are 10 facts you probably don't know about this New Zealand native.

1. It can outweigh a mouse. 

The giant weta is the world’s heaviest reported insect. It can weigh up to 2.5 ounces, though many weta don’t reach quite that giant of proportions. You can watch one face off with a cat above.

2. Its name means “god of ugly things.” 

The name weta comes from the Maori word wetapunga, or “god of ugly things” [PDF]. The genus name, deinacrida, means “terrible grasshopper.”

3. It loves carrots. 

In 2011, Smithsonian researcher Mark Moffett stumbled upon a particularly large giant weta on a trip to New Zealand’s Little Barrier Island. An image of Moffett feeding the huge insect a carrot went viral. A New Zealand insect expert later noted to the New Zealand Herald that feeding the insects carrots is quite common

4. It has dozens of weta cousins. 

There are over 70 species of weta in New Zealand. The giant weta’s close relatives include the carnivorous tusked weta, the tree weta, and the cave weta. Alpine weta can freeze solid during the winter, thawing out and going on their way once spring comes. 

5. It can’t jump.

Though it looks like a big cricket, giant weta are too heavy to fly. Some of its relatives, like the tree weta, are more agile and can jump, but giant weta are decidedly earth-bound. 

6. It’s close to extinction thanks to rats.

When humans arrived in New Zealand hundreds of years ago, they inadvertently brought weta predators along with them, like rats and cats, which ate the insects. First described in 1842, the giant weta was considered extinct on mainland New Zealand by the 1960s, though they were once populous across the northern island. Giant weta are now considered limited to Little Barrier Island, about 50 miles northeast of Auckland. 

7. It’s bred in captivity. 

Several conservation groups have begun breeding giant weta in captivity to increase the species’ numbers. So many baby wetapunga hatched at the Auckland Zoo in 2013 that the zoo had to take on more staffers to feed them all. In May 2014, the zoo released 150 giant weta on the island of Tiritiri Matangi. 

8. It breathes through its exoskeleton. 

Image Credit: pablo via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Like other insects, the weta doesn’t have lungs; it breathes through its exoskeleton. Holes in the weta’s exterior shell connect to tubes that pump oxygen to every cell in the insect’s body

9. It has ears on its knees. 

The holes that serve as weta ears are located just below the knee joint on the front legs. 

10. It’s older than some dinosaurs. 

Fossils found from the Triassic period 190 million years ago show striking similarities to the weta that inhabit New Zealand today. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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