New Zealand’s spiders – the creepy to the cool
Australia is so packed with extremely dangerous spiders that it’s hard to imagine that New Zealand has so few – and not one of them can do humans much harm at all.
When it comes to poisonous spiders, the most notorious is arguably the katipo, the ‘night-stinger’. The male of the species does not bite at all, and while the females do, they generally only would if you threatened it. Even then, it’s rare enough to even see a katipo and its bright red striped back, let alone be bitten by one.
The whitetail spider, on the other hand, is quite common throughout New Zealand. Noted for its long body and white ‘tail’, a bite reportedly hurts less than a bee sting and while it can result in an infected area, it is not poisonous.
New Zealand’s common orb spider can be seen throughout the country, but is not poisonous at all. You will generally only see their webs that they build during the night. In the day time, they stay hidden as insects get stuck in the web, before coming out again at night to harvest their catches and rebuild the web.
The most common spider in New Zealand is most likely the grey house spider that you can find just about everywhere and is completely harmless. Other common species include the crab and jumping spiders, as well as water spiders that are also usually nocturnal.
When you take a day tour from Auckland with Habitat Tours, it’s unlikely that you will actually see any spiders during the day. Generally, we may see the occasional spider’s web, but the creature itself will not show itself until after the sun sets, so you might be able to spot one on our Tawharanui night tours!
Meet the extinct birds of New Zealand
Like many places around the world, New Zealand has sadly said goodbye to a number of bird species. From predators to deforestation and other reasons, a number of birds have dwindled in numbers until there were no more.
Here are a handful of New Zealand’s now-extinct birds, and a little about each one.
Arguably the most famous of all New Zealand’s extinct birds, the moa was truly something spectacular. There were a range of moa in existence, and it’s believed that the last of them went extinct approximately 500 years ago. The largest of them – the giant moa – stood up to 2 metres in height, but their meat, feathers and bones were easy pickings for skilled Maori hunters. Some of the very smallest moa species were as little as the size of a turkey.
If the Haast’s Eagle were still alive today, it would be amongst the largest on the planet. One of these massive birds could weigh as much as 17.8 kilograms and have a wing span of up to 3 metres (to put that in perspective, the USA’s bald eagle has a wingspan of up to 2.3 metres). Its feet and claws were as big as a tiger’s, and it preyed on moa and was known to attack small children. It went extinct around the same time as the moa and is believed to have died out from overhunting.
From two of the biggest to one of the smallest, the bush wren is the last known bird species to have gone extinct in New Zealand in or around 1972. These cute little ground nesters quickly declined after the introduction of predators such as cats and rats, as they barely flew and nested close to the ground, so had very few natural defences against such threats.
The huia is also known as the New Zealand woodpecker, and it cast quite the striking image. Recognisable for its sleek black feathers with a flash of white at the tip of its long tail, the females of the species had long slender bills of up to 10cm, while the males had shorter bills of up to 6cm. The huia was an incredible songbird that was once reasonably common throughout the North Island, but is also believed to have become extinct due to predation from introduced species.
The morepork is New Zealand’s last surviving owl, but up until roughly the 19030s, the laughing owl was another of our endemic owl species. It was even twice the size of the morepork, and was named after its call, which is said to have sounded like the laughter of a mad man. Their feathers were a dark brown colour as adults, but the chicks were covered in a yellowy-white fluffy down. Sadly, the laughing owl is yet another species that disappeared due to predation from species such as ferrets, weasels and stoats.
How the NZ trapdoor spider is frustrating researchers
The New Zealand trapdoor spider is one of our biggest spider species in the country. They prefer to live in clay and mud areas in tunnels that can extend to up to 30 centimetres each. As they grow into their adult bodies, they expand that tunnel to make more room.
And they’ve been frustrating researchers.
Trapdoor spiders have trap-jaws that close so quickly, even a high-speed camera is barely able to keep up to record the spider closing those jaws – which makes it extremely tough for Hannah Wood of the Smithsonian Institute to properly study this New Zealand species.
According to the NZ Herald, Wood’s first encounter with the trapdoor spider was in Chile, which, as part of southern South America, is the only other place in the world where you can find this species.
What made the spider stand out was how it would sit with its jaw wide open waiting for prey, and when an insect got close enough, it would snap those jaws shut with an unheard of level of power and speed.
“That kind of predatory behaviour had been seen before in some ants,” she explained, “but it was unknown in arachnids.”
The trapdoor spiders are small and notoriously difficult to catch. According to RadioNZ, the females of the species have been known to stay hidden in their tunnels for as long as 25 years, only coming out to snap their jaws shut on unsuspecting prey before dragging them back into the tunnel.
Once they are caught and studied, however, Wood believes that they may unlock fascinating insights into rapid-action mechanisms, as the trapdoor’s muscles are too small for this power and speed to come from them alone. Instead, it’s likely that this fast-shutting jaw is attributed to some other feature of the spider’s anatomy – something Wood, and many other researchers – hope to find out.
Auckland’s geology: What’s lies beneath
Today, Auckland is known as the City of Sails and is the biggest city in the country. It’s filled with exciting new attractions and is constantly changing, but underneath it all, the geology of the city and its surrounds are just as fascinating.
A volcanic history
Much of Auckland’s geography all comes down to volcanoes. In fact, within a 20 kilometre radius of the city centre, there are as many as 49 volcanoes.
Many of these still feature as major landmarks around the city today. For example, Mt Eden just outside of the CBD is the highest of them all at 196 metres, and you can now visit this lush green parkland and walk or bike to the top for an incredible view of Auckland.
Another of the most famous volcanoes is Mt Rangitoto, which sits just offshore and is the most recent of Auckland’s volcanoes, having erupted just 600 years ago. If you make it out for a trip to this fantastic island, you can find more than 200 species of native plants and trees.
Even the popular Auckland Domain is the site of an old volcano. It’s where you’ll find the Auckland Museum and many of the city’s big outdoor events, but it’s also where a volcano erupted more than 100,000 years ago (making it one of the city’s oldest).
If you look even further back in time, you’ll see that the city’s volcanic history isn’t just confined to a relatively recent era. In fact, the Waitakere Ranges – where we do many of our day tours from Auckland – were formed sometime between 15 and 22 million years ago in the Miocene period. Back then, everything that is now Auckland was still under the sea, up until massive forces pushed the Waitakere volcano up above sea level.
By comparison, most of Auckland’s volcanoes are quite small compared to others around the globe. Even those that still pose a small risk of explosion would only affect a 5-kilometre radius. While this would still cause huge disruptions to the city, this is still a much smaller area than could be expected in other places. Fortunately, experts expect they would be able to give days or weeks of warning for people in the area.
Rocks and minerals
Auckland, like much of New Zealand, is high in greywacke – a hard type of sandstone. You can see some of this material in Auckland’s east in the Hunua Ranges.
Over time, this greywacke became part of the ‘basement rock’ of the Auckland region, and were joined by new sediments from millennia of volcanic activity. With the help of erosion, the Auckland of today was formed. Some of the best places to see the rocks beneath Auckland are around coastal areas where you can see the layers in cliff faces that exposes years and years of history and geology.
Auckland is without doubt an incredibly historic and fascinating place, and you can learn a lot more about its natural flora and fauna during a Habitat Tours day trip from the city.
Habitat Tours’ bird of the month: The Kakariki
The kakariki is a fantastic little New Zealand parrot. The word ‘kakariki’ means ‘small green parrot’ in Maori, and there are five different species within this bird family. In English, we call the kakariki parakeet.
Those species are; the yellow-crowned parakeet, the orange-fronted parakeet, the red-crowned parakeet, the Forbes’ parakeet, and the Antipodes Island parakeet.
As the names suggest, you can typically tell each species apart simply from their colouring. The Antipodes Island group have entirely green heads, and the only exception to the name rules is for the Forbes’ Parakeets, which look quite similar to the yellow-crowned species, but can only be found on Mangere Island in the Chathams.
So why have we chosen them as our bird of the month?
For starters, the kakariki – no matter the species – is a strikingly beautiful bird. The bright green feathers and whatever colour you find on the head are a visually arresting sight and one that you should count yourself very luck to see if you ever come across one.
Of course, the kakariki is also a native species to New Zealand, and we always love talking about any flora and fauna that calls this country home! Interestingly, the red- and yellow-crowned kakariki are the only native birds that are allowed to be held bred in captivity with special permission from the Department of Conservation.
Unfortunately, kakariki is not as common as it could be. The yellow-crowned parakeet can be seen in forested areas throughout the main islands of New Zealand and on the Auckland Islands, although sightings are rare. The red-crowned parakeet was once quite common, but is now extremely rare on the mainland and is only really seen on predator-free islands.
As for their lifestyle, the kakariki is a pretty typical bird in that they prefer a diet of berries and fruits, seeds and insects. While they usually nest in trees, they’re often seen (when they are seen) foraging on the ground for snacks. You may even hear them before you see them, as they make a distinctive rapid ‘ki-ki-ki’ sound during flight.
The female kakariki will lay a large clutch of eggs – as many as five to nine – at a time. It may seem surprising that the population of these fantastic species have dwindled with such a large number of eggs, but there are several reasons why that’s not the case. Originally, kakarikis were so common that farmers would shoot the birds, according to the Department of Conservation, as they would feed on fruit and grain crops.
In addition to early human threats, the kakariki now face rats as a major predator. Rats will raid the nests of eggs and wipe out an entire clutch in one go, which is why 1080 poison is commonly used to kill of rats to give kakariki a fighting chance to breed successfully.
Reforestation and protection of old forests is also used to help ensure kakariki have plenty of places to live and scavenge for food.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist