Moving to a new country means discovering new creatures in your back yard.  This is the place to talk about the wild things in your garden: what are they, and how do they help or hinder your gardening.

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Poultry means birds that are farmed for meat or eggs. This includes chickens, bantams, geese, ducks...

There is a poultry group on Ooooby called Poultry in Urbania that you could join:

A group all about how to keep poultry including chickens, bantams,geese and ducks. Help with problems or questions and to brag about your special feathered friends.

Book on Keeping Back Yard Chickens

If you missed the HOGs chicken garden trips last Saturday or want to learn more, Hamilton City Libraries holds the American book Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Frie... by Jessi Bloom, an award winning landscape designer.  She even has tips on how to train your chickens!

Identifying animals, bugs, plants and fungi in New Zealand

Landcare Research Manaaki Whenua is a government funded science organisation.  It has free identification guides with lots of pictures on their web site: 


Photo: NZ native wood pigeon, a protected bird with a taste for fruit and young leaves.  They are beautiful but not common.

Where the wild things are...

If you are out in your garden at night (perhaps harvesting snails for the chickens), you may hear a rythmic scraping noise.  This is likely to be a native male weta, telling other weta to keep away from his territory.  Weta are mostly nocturnal - ie active at night.  They are an insect related to crickets and grasshoppers.

This week is Conservation Week and you have the opportunity to see one of our endangered giant weta at either Hamilton Zoo (11-11:30 am, or 2 - 2:30 pm daily) or at a free public Royal Society Lecture tomorrow night at Waikato University.

Weta look fierce, but like most of NZ native creatures, they would rather get away than try to hurt you.  They rest in dark crevices during the day.  Gumboots left on the porch can seem like a safe place to hide, so if that is where you leave your shoes, check they are empty before you put your feet in!

The Department of Conservation (DoC) are encouraging us to leave a small part of our gardens wild to give native creatures, such as weta and lizards , a place to flourish.  Here is some advice on making a lizard friendly garden.


Tree Weta

The type of weta you are most likely to see in your garden is the tree weta. 

The females have a long 'spike' sticking out of their rear ends: it is not a sting, it is an ovipositor - a tube used to lay eggs in soil.  You are most likely to see weta in April-May when they come down to the ground to lay their eggs.

Like many NZ creatures, if they feel threatened they tend to freeze (be still), or in some cases flick their spiked back legs up (see video clip below) which makes them look bigger.  If  it does this to you, move back - give it some space. Given the chance they will hide rather than bite or scratch you. 

You can also hear the sound weta make in the video clip below.

Weta are eaten by many creatures, so many species of weta are threatened: don't kill them!  Predators (creatures that eat them) include: bats, reptiles, birds, possums, hedgehogs, rats, mice, stoats and cats.

Giant Weta

Took this photo at Waikato University last night of the giant Mahoenui weta. It is 'critically endangered' - (very rare). 

The Giant Mahoenui weta are vegetarians (eat plants). They also love peanut butter - and agree that fresh is best!

The live near Hamilton in special reserves, two of the reserves have special pest proof fences to protect them from mammal predators.

These are not the largest species of giant weta: the biggest weta are the heaviest insects in the world!  

NZ Garden Pests & Diseases

Clare recommends Rob Lucas's book, Managing Pests and Diseases: A Handbook for New Zealand Gardeners as a guide to help you identify what is damaging your plants.  It has many colour photographs.  

Both Hamilton City Libraries and South Waikato District Libraries (Tokoroa & Putararu) have copies of the book that you can borrow for free if you live in their area.

Photos: Cicada insect and skin that has been shed. Cicadas make the loud noise you hear in summer and autumn during the day.

Cicadas lay their eggs in twigs (small tree and shrub branches), leaving a herringbone pattern.  This weakens the twig: it will often eventually break off.  In most cases this is not a problem.  In rare cases where lots of cicadas have laid eggs on a young tree, the tree will die. 

While Lucas's book is great for identifying pests and diseases, the ways he suggests of controlling them are not always the kind of methods that organic gardeners would use.    

time to look for slugs

Look for slugs under pots, logs and leaves during the day. When you find them, squash them. Slugs breed fast and will eat your spring plants, fruit and flowers.

Rats & Mice
Rats and mice are the most numerous mammals on earth, so you've probably seen them before! 

They love to eat seeds, so keep your seeds in screw top jars or a box they cannot eat through. 

Given the chance, rats and mice will also eat flowers, fruit and your stored crops, such as kumara and nuts. In the photo (right) you can see where a rat has eaten a potato I was chitting.  They also eat insects.

The first time I saw a rat it ran up a sunflower to eat the seeds!  I have also seen one climb a tree to get into a nest: they eat both birds and their eggs.  The pest proof fence around wildlife sanctuaries like Maungakawa uses a mesh with holes no bigger than 6 mm to keep young mice out.

A NZ designed trap called Nooski is said to be one of the most humane ways of killing them - there is a podcast interview with the inventors on Radio NZ.  Some cats and dogs will also hunt and kill rats and mice. 

Rats and mice are rodents

Learning English?  The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary has a useful world list on The Living World covering:

  • Animals
  • Plants and Fungi
  • Bacteria and viruses.

See the usage notes below the entry for bud.


Worms are good! They help to make compost (decompose garden waste) and aerate the soil, helping plant roots get the oxygen they need.  Their droppings and wee are excellent garden fertilizer - that is why we sometimes farm them



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