Lions and tigers and bears…..err nope!

A dear acquaintance of mine was quizzing me about wildlife in New Zealand last week and it occurred to me that perhaps other people might be interested in my answers. So here goes…..

Are there any poisonous snakes in New Zealand?

No. In fact, there are no snakes in New Zealand at all. Although I don’t think it was Saint Patrick that drove them all out, New Zealand is very much like Ireland in that there have never been snakes here. Not even a little adder.

What about spiders? Are there poisonous spiders?

Yes. But nothing like in Australia, I promise. There are three types of spiders that bite: the Katipo, the Redback and the White Tail. The Katipo (which means Night-Stinger in Māori) and the Redback belong to the same family as the American Black Widow and are venomous. Bites are pretty rare but just so you don’t worry about me, I can assure you there are safe and effective antivenoms for bites from these spiders.

The White Tail likes to hang out in your house, usually in any clothes that you leave on the floor. If there was anything that makes you want to pick up your dirty laundry it’s knowing that an arachnid could be making a home in your pants. It can and will bite you if it feels threatened but it’s not venomous.

Have you seen a kiwi?

Yes! But not in the wild. That’s super rare as a) they’re nocturnal and b) there aren’t that many of them. You can take a boat to Kāpiti Island and go on an overnight kiwi spotting tour if you want to try and see them in their natural habitat but it’s not really the time of year to be bivouacking down in the bush so if absolutely must see one of these critters your best bet is to go to a wildlife reserve.

I’ve seen a live kiwi in the Nocturnal House at Nga Manu Reserve in Waikanae. And they are much bigger than you think they are. Here’s a picture from the New Zealand Herald of a kiwi that was hit by a car in the arms of a vet:

Bet you thought they were about the size of quails, eh? Nope. They’re considerably bigger and sadly declining in numbers by about 2% every year.

Are there any English birds in NZ?

Yes. The early Europeans brought over blackbirds, skylarks, sparrows, starlings and song thrushes and they all look the same as the ones in the UK.

New Zealand also has magpies but they’ve come over from Australia rather than Europe and like most creatures from Australia they’re bigger and way more aggressive. During nesting season, they have been known to swoop down and attack people. They’re also distinctly black and white unlike the European magpie:

There are robins too (North Island and South Island robins) but although they’re roughly the same size and shape as our little gardening friends in the UK, they’re not the same colour:

New Zealanders are obsessed with their native birds. If I tried to include all the native birds that I’ve seen while I’ve been here, this post would be way too long so I’ll write a separate one when I’m in a twitcher mood.

Are there foxes and badgers in New Zealand?

No, there are no foxes but this is largely due to good luck rather than good management. Three foxes came over to New Zealand on the William Miles back in 1864. One jumped overboard and the remaining dog and vixen died without breeding. The colonial government at the time (after seeing how foxes were helping themselves to lambs in their sister colony of Australia) swiftly banned the importation of foxes to New Zealand.

Talk about a narrow escape.

And there are no badgers either. The New Zealand equivalent (if you can call it that) is the common brushtail possum and they look like this:

Don’t say ‘aw’ – these are not cute

Possums were ‘introduced’ to New Zealand from Australia in the late 1800’s by some wally who thought it would be pretty neat idea to start up a fur trade. And like most things that seem to be a good idea at the time, it didn’t end well. Not for humans at least. The experiment went remarkably well for the possum. Without any natural predators, they could spend most of their waking hours treating New Zealand’s natural habitat like one enormous smorgasbord, eating native flora and fauna, and devouring chicks and eggs from native species of birds. Oh and like the badger in the UK, they also gave cows tuberculosis. Nice.

The upswing (if you can call it that) is that possum fur makes great gloves. Seriously. Really warm and soft. Can you imagine if people tried making badger skin gloves? Ick.

What about rabbits?

Yes, New Zealand has wild rabbits and like in the UK, they’re out of control. They were brought to New Zealand by Europeans in the early 1800’s for sport and food but they quickly bred faster than they could be shot or eaten and started decimating crops and native plants. The solution was to introduce ferrets, stoats and weasels as ‘natural predators’ in the hope that they would control the ever expanding rabbit population, which they did. But not really understanding the plan, these imported mustelids went rouge and added native birds eggs and chicks to their menu. Whoops.

Do New Zealand mosquitos carry disease?

No, thank goodness. But that doesn’t make them any less annoying especially for someone like me who is allergic to them. Sandflies and blackflies are also a real pain as well as midges although biting midges are more of a problem in the South Island, I believe.

Do you have a question about wildlife in New Zealand? Feel free to ask it in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer it!

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