Creepy Crawlies

New Zealand is home to a wide range of creatures that creep, crawl, slither and fly. New Zealand Post issued self-adhesive stamps featuring these ten Creepy Crawlies.

Issue information

The species depicted in the Creepy Crawlies stamp issue may not be the most obviously endearing of New Zealand's many and varied forms of wildlife. Your instinct, should you come across one of them in your home or garden, may be to crush them underfoot. Stop yourself. Each and every one of these species plays a vital role in the ecosystem it lives in, each is a part of New Zealand's extraordinarily rich biological diversity. Many of them, including the giant wētā, are threatened by introduced predators. This stamp issue was one way to acknowledge the importance of these species. It reminded us that Creepy Crawlies are a part of our unique web of life here in New Zealand, and that they deserve to be celebrated in the same way that the Hector's dolphin, the hoiho and the tuatara in our own small, but special corner of the world.

Giant Wētā

Giant wētā (Deinacrida spp.) which are found only in New Zealand, are probably the oldest and most physically unchanged insects in the world. Fossils show these primitive insects may date back as much as 190 million years ago, when New Zealand was part of the ancient land known as Gondwana. Out of the almost 100 species of wētā, 11 are giant and most of these are threatened. Unfortunately they are unable to protect themselves from their main enemies, rats and cats. Although they can be found in small localised areas on the mainland, giant wētā are now mainly found on small offshore islands including Stephen Island in Cook Strait and Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. 

With a habitat that ranges from tussock grasslands to scrub, to high up in the trees, giant wētā are very adaptable and even manage to survive in some very cold and harsh environments, including an area 1400m above the sea level on the Kaikōura Ranges. The largest of the giant wētā, the wētāpunga (which is Māori for 'the god of ugly things'), grows up to 10cm long and 71gm in weight. Depending on the species, giant wētā range in colour from silvery blue-grey with orange markings, to dark brown or black. All breathe through holes on the sides of their bodies and have ears on their front legs.

Giant Land Snail

There are about 200 species of New Zealand land snails - of these, 46 are giant land snails (Powelliphanta spp.). Ironically, most of us are only familiar with the common garden snail, which is an introduced species. Like many of the inverterbrates endemic to New Zealand, giant land snails are an ancient species. They originated about 200 million years ago and belong to the oldest family of carnivorous land snails in the world. They can be found in forests in the southern part of the North Island and in the northern part of the South Island. Rather than scaling trees, they live deep in the moist, calcium rich soils of these forests.

Unlike many other snails, giant land snails can't conserve moisture and dehydrate quickly, so they are confined to areas of the forest that are moist and cool, usually at high altitude. They are most active at night when they prey on worms, slugs, other snails and soft-bodied inverterbrates, although they sometimes come out during the day in damp weather conditions. Giant land snails, which live for up to 40 years and can grow up to 10cm in diameter, are preyed upon by a range of introduced animals, including rats, hedgehogs, pigs, thrushes and blackbirds, as well as their native predators weka and kākā. By clearing large areas of their forest habitat, humans have also had a big impact on the population and distribution of these invertebrates.

Peripatus

Although all peripatus or velvet worms look like caterpillars and many people believe they are insects or worms but they are neither of these things. In fact, these ancient animals are so unique that, like the tuatara, they belong in a group of their own. They are of great scientific interest because of their unusual combination of features. Their soft bodies are segmented like worms while they have antennae and claws like insects.

There are five known species of velvet worms in New Zealand. Peripatoides novazealandiae is the most common and widespread in both the North and South islands. It is greyish-blue, up to 60mm long and has 15 pairs of legs. Females are larger than males and bear their young alive. A second species Ooperpatellus insignis, is mostly found in the South Island beech forests, but also lives in a few North Island localities as well as in Australia. It is dark grey, mottled with orange and green spots. It has 14 pairs of legs and has egg-laying females. 

The remaining three species of New Zealand peripatus are known from one locality each, one in the North Island and two in the South Island. Peripatoides indigo, named after its purple colour, lives in dense forests of northwest Nelson and reached up to 80mm long. Peripatoides suteri is found in Taranaki, in the forest litter covering Mt Egmont, it is similar to P. novaezealandiae, but it has 16 pairs of legs. Ooperipatellus nanus is the smallest velvet worm in New Zealand - up to 8mm long - and it was discovered in Southland in 1977. 

All velvet worms live in very moist habitats and prey on small insects and spiders, catching them by spitting a sticky slime up to 25cm onto their target. Once the slime has hardened, they make a small hole in the immobilised victim, to suck its fluid out. Although not a great deal is knwon about peripatus, it is thought they reach maturity after about a year, and live for up to five years.

Giant Dragonfly

With a wingspan of 100mm-120mm, the giant dragonfly (Uropetala carovei) is the largest of the 11 dragonflies found in New Zealand. With its large wings and slender black and yellow banded abdomen, it has a striking appearance. Although completely harmless to humans, this dragonfly is a fierce predator in the world of insects. An agile and rapid flier, it spends a great deal of time darting swiftly in search of prey, using its enormous eyes to help it search for insects. When it has pinpointed its target, the giant dragonfly closes in and grasps its prey with its legs.

At rest it spreads its wings out flat. Giant dragonfly larvae, or nymphs live along the banks of rivers, streams and lakes, where they build tunnels in the soft mud. It takes over four years for them to develop fully from a plain brown nymph to the brightly coloured adult larvae. 

Pūriri Moth

The pūriri moth (Aenetus virescens), also called the ghost moth, is New Zealand's largest native moth, with a wingspan of 100mm-150mm. Only found in the North Island, these nocturnal moths were once known to fly in vast numbers. However, habitat loss has led to a sharp drop in their numbers. Although their wing pattern and colouration vary, pūriri moths are usually green.

As evidenced by their name, they have an association with the pūriri tree. Pūriri moth caterpillars live in rotting logs on the forest floor for about a year after they hatch. Then they crawl up a live native tree, for example a pūriri, beech or makomako and bore a tunnel into the wood and live inside it for around six years. They feed on the life-protecting tissues the tree produces. The morepork is the main native predator of the pūriri moth.

Cicada

The cicada depicted on the stamp (Amphipsalta zealandica) is one of about 40 different species of cicadas (Cicadidae) in New Zealand, ranging in size from the large chorus cicada, with a wingspan of 75mm, to the small alpine cicada, which has a wingspan of just 15mm. They live in a diverse range of habitats, from lowland tussock scrub, forests and river banks, to stony outcrops and alpine scree.

The most common species is the large chorus cicada, which is a striking green insect, with black markings and three bright red simple eyes set between two larger compound eyes each on either side of its head. It's the shrill vibrating hum of this species that most people hear throughout summer in the New Zealand summer. Only the male cicada is capable of producing sound, the aim of his song is to attract a mate. He has no vocal chords, but produces the familiar sound by pulling and releasing a membrane to vibrate special ridged tymbals (a sort of drum) on the underside of the abdomen.

Flax Weevil

Once widespread throughout New Zealand, the flax weevil (Anagotus fairburni) is now restricted to rat-free islands, such as the Poor Knights and the Hen and Chicken Islands, off the northeastern coast of Northland. Although it was thought to be a coastal species, small populations of flax weevil have also been discovered in bush line and mountain regions. As it name suggests, it has a strong connection to the flax plant (Phormium), which is its only source of food. The female flax weevil lays her eggs on the flax and, when they hatch into larvae, the young burrow into the fleshy base of the plant to feed.

When the larvae are fully grown, they pupate into adult weevils in the leaf litter at the base of the plant. After dusk, the weevils work their way up the young flax leaved feeding as they go, leaving characteristic holes behine them. If disturbed, they freeze,and if touched, they drop back down to the leaf litter below, where their mottled brown colour provides an excellent camouflage.

Giant Veined Slug

When we think of the slug, we tend to limit ourselves to the introduced slimy grey variety which invades the cabbage patch. However, the native veined slug depicted on the stamp (Athoracophorus bitentaculatus), is just one of 25 varieties found in New Zealand, which are unlike any other mollusc in the world. These land slugs are basically snails which have lost almost their entire hard protective cover, all that remains is a small grain of their shell just below their air-breathing lungs, which are visible on the top of their bodies. Most species of veined slugs, which grow up 150mm long, live on the ground in rotting logs or leaf litter, although some South Island species can be found in tussock grasslands and alpine scrubs.

Katipō Spider

Although there are more than 1500 species of native spiders known in New Zealand, the katipō (Latrodectus katipō) is the most dangerous. Despite being neither large nor very common, it's a well known species because of its venomous bite. However there have only been two verified cases where people have died as a result of being bitten by a katipō spider. Its large round abdomen and distinctive markings mean it is quite easily recognised. The female katipō has a prominent red or orange stripe running down the middle of her back. The male which is smaller than the female, resembles a young katipō because it has bright diamonds and black and white stripes on his abdomen.

Although rarely found more than a few hundred metres from the sea, the katipō is quite widely distributed, It lives on sandy beaches around the North Island and much of the South Island. Its webs are often found in among tuffs of Marram grass or under driftwood. Katipō spiders are more likely to be found on beaches which are rarely, if ever, disturbed by humans.

Huhu Beetle

The huhu beetle (Prionoplus reticularis) is New Zealand's largest endemic beetle. Its brown, oblong body, which can vary in length from 25mm-50mm, is topped by two long jointed feelers and hard, embossed wings that have a pattern similar to the veins on a leaf. It sometimes uses its large mandibles to give a sharp nip when handled. Huhu beetles fly erratically and clumsily, making a lot of noise. During their larval phase, when they're fat and large, they're known as huhu grubs, or simply huhu to Māori. 

Huhu grubs bore holes into timber, causing considerable damage. They feed on all kinds of dead and dying wood, even fence posts. After boring a series of tunnels into the wood, the larva pupates, emerging in the summer as a fully-formed huhu beetle. Although its whole life cycle takes about three years to complete, its life as a beetle lasts just two weeks.

Product Listing for Creepy Crawlies

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $4.50
Self-adhesive booklet

Mint, used or cancelled booklet of 10 x 40c self-adhesive stamps.

The individual stamps in this issue were:

Single 40c 'Giant Wētā' self-adhesive stamp.

Giant wētās are found only in New Zealand, and are probably the oldest and most physically unchanged insects in the world. 

Single 40c 'Giant Land Snail' self-adhesive stamp.

There are about 200 species of New Zealand land snails - of these, 46 are giant land snails.

Single 40c 'Peripatus' self-aadhesive stamp.

Peripatus are neither insects or worms - they are so unique, they belong in a group of their own. Their bodies are segmented like worms but they have antennae and claws like insects. 

Single 40c 'Giant Dragonfly' self-adhesive stamp.

With a wingspan of 100mm - 120mm, the giant dragonfly is the largest of 11 dragonflies found in New Zealand.

Single 40c 'Pūriri Moth' self-adhesive stamp.

The pūriri moth, also called the ghost moth, is New Zealand's largest native moth, with a wingspan of 100mm - 150mm.

Single 40c 'Cicada' self-adhesive stamp.

The cicarda depicted on the stamp is one of about 40 different species of cicadas in New Zealand.

Single 40c 'Flax Weevil' self-adhesive stamp.

The flax weevil is restricted to rat-free islands, such as the Poor Knights and Hen and Chicken Islands, off the northeastern coast of Northland.

Single 40c 'Giant Veined Slug' self-adhesive stamp.

The native veined slug depicted on the stamp is just one of 25 varieties found in New Zealand, which are unlike any other mollusc found in the world.

Single 40c 'Katipō Spider' self-adhesive stamp.

Although their are more than 1500 species of native spiders known in New Zealand, the katipō is the most dangerous because of its venomous bite.

Single 40c 'Huhu Beetle' self-adhesive stamp.

The huhu beetle is New Zealand's largest endemic beetle. During their larval phase, when they are large and fat, they are known as huhu grubs.

$4.00
Presentation Pack Album featuring ten stamp cards with a strip of ten creepy crawlie stamps and further information on the theme of the stamps. $4.95

Technical information

Date of issue: 1 October 1997
Number of stamps: Ten
Denominations: 40c huhu beetle, 40c giant land snail, 40c giant wētā, 40c giant dragonfly, 40c peripatus, 40c cicada, 40c pūriri moth, 40c veined slug, 40c katipō, 40c flax weevil
Stamps and first day cover designed by:  Dave Gunson, Auckland, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand by lithography with stochastic screening 
Number of colours: Four plus on special
Stamp size and format: 25mm x 30mm (horizontal)
Paper type: JAC self-adhesive stamp paper
Number of stamps per booklet: 10 
Perforation gauge: Die cut perforations
Special blocks: Due to the booklet nature of this issue, these stamps were not available in sheet format. Plate/imprint, positional, value, barcode and colour blocks were not available in this issue.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale from 1 October 1998 until further notice.