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God of Ugly Things

Kea writes about the beautiful island she lives on. It seems like paradise. She also speaks about the endangered weta.

October 29, 2012 04:39 pm | Updated November 13, 2021 10:21 am IST

Kea's letter to Aristotle

Kea's letter to Aristotle

Dear Aristotle,

I belong to kea (pronounced keya), a species of parrots that are found only in mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. We are stunningly beautiful birds with grey-green feathers and red underwings and rump. I will not be impolite as to talk about myself; besides I am tired of the wonderful things said about me all the time. Hence, on with a bit about my land and a tale of one of its most primitive and ugh... ugliest creatures that have lived here from the age of the dinosaurs.

Two large islands — North and South Islands, along with many tiny ones scattered around them make up the country of New Zealand. Penguins from Antarctica holiday here, so you can imagine how far south we are in the Southern Hemisphere. With snow-capped mountains, vast green meadows, blue skies, beaches and sparkling seas, it is the most scenic place in the world. Well, I haven’t been elsewhere but I am sure no place on earth can match this one. For millions of years, the only creatures here were reptiles, birds, insects, bats and seals.

There was peace and harmony; there were no mammalian predators.

Is it good to have too much of a good life? I do not have an answer but many birds and insects evolved to become flightless ones, grew big, fat and wingless. There were no predators; no danger to run away from. Who needs a raincoat when there is no rain? You get the point? Moa (became extinct in the 1400s), kiwi, penguin, kakapo and weta can walk, run and jump but cannot fly. I mean, there are so many of them that they once had wings but not anymore. By the way, the kakapo is our cousin, a species of parrot that cannot fly, is big and green, looks and behaves like an owl and active only at night. However, the weta are the ones I wish to write about. Once you are through reading this letter, you will feel good about yourself.

Going back to my story…

The first people to come to New Zealand were the Maori from other Pacific islands in the 1200’s. There wasn’t any major problem after that except that they hunted and ate the fat moa to extinction. The real trouble started when the first European settlers came here in mid 1700’s. They brought with them strange animals and birds from their lands. Aliens — cats, rats, rabbits, opossum, and what have you are disrupting the peace and balance in our ecology. Like many other native species, weta too are becoming endangered. That is okay by me; less weta the better. However, all creatures have the right to live on this planet, even these monster insects.

It was the survival adaptations that made me look closely at weta. They are amazing survivors — they can withstand extremes in temperatures and humidity. They hide in cold dark caves, crawl out from under rocks, creep out of tree holes or hop around in landscaped gardens. Of the 70 species of this over-sized insect found here, about 11 are Giant weta; and one of the giants is wetapunga, the largest and heaviest insect in the world. It grows to about four inches long. How do they look? Not pretty! Actually, they resemble a mutant grasshopper or cricket with a horse-like face, large powerful jaws, long antennae, spiky, enlarged hind legs and of course, with no wings. His name in Maori means “God of Ugly Things”. Perhaps, there is a simple explanation for the disappearance of dinosaurs and moa; they preferred extinction to sharing a habitat with weta!


Reply from Aristotle

Pretty bird, obviously, you have not seen other parts of the world. The sky is blue, the meadows green, the sea sparkling everywhere on this planet!

If your cousin the kakapo is to be believed, you are one nasty bird. Sheep ranchers would look forward to your extinction, since you bite flesh and fat off live sheep with your powerful hooked beak!

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