10 things you didn’t know about NZ animals
1. New Zealands dinosaur
The tuatara is a reptile, but not a lizard native to New Zealand. The world tuatara is Maori for “spiny back”, which is explained when you see one. The interesting thing about these tiny dragons, that can be around 75cm long is that they were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. 225 million years to be exact. Due to increased rat populations they are now just found in sanctuaries or on many of the islands around New Zealand.
2. Kiwi bird
In New Zealand the word ‘kiwi’ has three meanings. Firstly you could refer to a New Zealander as a ‘kiwi’. Secondly there is the fruit which to avoid confusion we would call ‘kiwi fruit’. Lastly there is the nocturnal, flightless bird which we call a ‘kiwi bird’. Our air force use the kiwi bird as there logo which is ironic seen as the kiwi can’t fly. Well any ways these birds lay one of the biggest eggs to the size of there body around. The egg averages 15 per cent of the female’s body weight (compared to two per cent for the ostrich). In fact the egg gets so big that the kiwi can’t eat as food wont fit in its stomach so has to fast until the egg is laid.
As well as this Kiwi’s are the only bird to have nostrils at the end of its very long bill. Their nostrils are used to probe in the ground, sniffing out invertebrates to eat, along with some fallen fruit. The down side is they are endangered with numbers on the decrease. There are around 70.000 remaining.
Although in recent years the number of sheep in New Zealand has declined as dairy farms become more profitable, there are still an estimated 31 million sheep. With the population now around the 4.5 million mark that means approximately 6.9 sheep per person. This is a big drop from 30 years ago when there were over 70 million, but still the basis of many “sheep shagging” jokes from our Aussie neighbors.
On top of all these sheep we have over 10 million cows. If you add to this the 1.5 million cats and half a million dogs as well as all the other critters that roam New Zealand we end up with only 5% of New Zealand as humans and the other 95% animals.
One of the biggest birds to ever live was the New Zealand moa. These birds roamed the New Zealand country side as recently as 500 years ago until they were hunted to extinction by the Maori people. They looked similar to an ostrich except 3.6m tall and weighing 230 kg. These giant birds were flightless and in fact had no wings at all. They would graze similar to a deer. There have been various claimed sightings of the birds or there foot prints over the years in remote parts of New Zealand, but no hard proof.
Even scarier than the moa is the Haast’s eagle which used to hunt and kill the moa for lunch. These are the biggest eagles to ever have existed with a wing span up to 3m. It would have been a scary time to be living in New Zealand as some Maori legends report people being killed by these killers of the sky. Along with the moa these birds soon became extinct once there main food source, the moa was wiped out.
6. Rare and unusual Frog
This species of frog has barely changed over the last 200 million years. This creature is unusual, because it doesn’t pass through a tadpole stage. The eggs are laid on land among moist vegetation and hatch as froglets with tails. Their dutiful father carries the froglets around on his back. Sadly, Archey’s frog which are only found in two parts of New Zealand are now very rare and it is a critically endangered species.
7. Vandalising parrot
The kea is a large parrot native to New Zealand. These birds are found in forested and alpine regions of the South Island. They are the only alpine parrot in the world. This green bird is cute looking, but have been nicknamed “the clown of the mountain” or a better name “the mountain thief”. These birds often frequent ski fields where they will peak at and steal unguarded clothing or equipment. They are also know to pull and rip apart the rubber seals of cars.
8. The only mammal native to NZ
New Zealand has only one native land animal and its not what you think. Its a bat, the New Zealand long tailed bat. Sheep, cows, rats, rabbits and other four legged mammals were all introduced to New Zealand once Maori and Europeans arrived. Even the possum was introduce from Australia for fur trade, but has since become a major pest.
9. Stars within a cave
Tourists flock underground to visit the unforgettable Waitomo Caves in New Zealand’s Waikato region to see the glowworms (fireflies). The Waitomo River runs underground through the caves, which natural light cannot reach. Tourists take boat trips along the river, where there are so many of these tiny insects high above that it creates a night-sky effect, with groups of glowworms looking like stars.
10. The World’s Smallest Dolphin
Hector’s Dolphin is the smallest dolphin in the world, and it is found only in the waters around New Zealand. Adult dolphins average about 1.4 meters in length, so they are smaller than most adult humans. They prefer shallow water and so don’t usually stray far out into the sea.