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What are Some Animals in New Zealand?

New Zealand's relative isolation makes it ideal for birds and rodents.
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New Zealand, located about 2000 km (1250 mi) southeast from Australia, has some of the most unique animals in the world. This is due to the island being large enough to sustain a large ecosystem, but sufficiently isolated that the main animals are birds and rodents, with a particular emphasis on birds. New Zealand has the most avian-centric biodiversity in the world, which was even more impressive before dozens of species went extinct due to the intervention of humans and introduced species. Fortunately, rare animals in New Zealand today are among the best-protected in the world, thanks to the government's aggressive conservation efforts in recent decades.

Endemic animals in New Zealand include the famous kiwi, dozens of species of parrots, skinks, and geckos, the tuatara, frogs, the kakapo, two species of bat, and the weta. There are many more extinct animals that once lived there, including ten species of moa, which were large flightless birds; Haast's eagle, which is the largest eagle that ever lived; adzebills, large omnivorous flightless birds related to the "Terror Birds" of South America; and at least one poorly-understood "ghost lineage" of mammals that cannot be classified as monotremes, placentals, or marsupials.

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The most famous of animals in New Zealand is likely the kiwi, a small flightless bird that appears on the coat of arms of New Zealand. "Kiwi" is also a colloquial term for a New Zealander. Kiwis are ratites, like ostriches, but they are just the size of a chicken, making them the smallest living ratites by a large margin. Kiwis have a long, thin beak that they use to probe in the ground for insects. Throughout most of New Zealand, where kiwis are at threat from introduced predators, they are shy and nocturnal, rarely being seen.

Other unique animals in New Zealand are the kakapo, a flightless parrot, and the New Zealand wrens, which are believed to have branched off from other passerine birds more than 80 million years ago, when New Zealand first became an isolated land mass. The kakapo is one of the most endangered animals in New Zealand or the world, with only 90 living individuals known. Their near-extinction is attributed to their flightless nature and loud mating calls, which made evolutionary sense until the recent introduction of mammalian predators such as cats. Ecological sanctuary islands have been set aside specifically for the kakapo, and the bird's population is recovering.

New Zealand is also home to one of the world's largest insects, the weta, which looks like a cross between a cockroach and a grasshopper. These insects can have a body length of 12 cm (4 in), not including their long legs and antennae. Their large size is a byproduct of their occupying ecological niches that would be occupied by rodents in other parts of the world. The largest wetas weigh more than a sparrow.

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Discuss this Article

aplenty
Post 2

Wow, I learned something new today. I never knew that New Zealand had the most avian-centric biodiversity in the world. I never really thought about what types of animals call New Zealand home. What I think of most are animals like platypus, fur seals, and other aquatic animals in or around the islands. Now I want to move my New Zealand trip higher up on my bucket list because there are so many unique things about the place.

anon66908
Post 1

I've never heard of most of the animals mentioned in this article. They are pretty cool!

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