New research has revealed that a species of giant weta found only in New Zealand's Cook Strait region communicate with each other by sending vibrations through materials in their natural environment, such as leaves, soil and plant stems. This is the first time these mouse-sized insects, distant relatives of North American crickets, were observed using this particular type of substrate-borne, vibrational signaling, which isn't perceptible to humans. Weta, which means 'god of ugly things' in the indigenous Maori language, evolved in isolation for 80 million years in New Zealand. With no natural mammalian predators to hide or escape from, over the millennia the weta became lumbering, wingless and occasionally odiferous -- in other words, very easy to detect and ensnare. The researchers are also studying whether other giant weta species use substrate-borne vibrational signaling, and if the way they communicate has been influenced by their often harsh environments -- a pattern that evolutionary biologists call "ecological speciation."
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