get better work stories

/ weta sculpture by mark hill 2006 /
'get better work stories' is the marketing slogan that the nz police use for recruiting. while imagine that working for the police force would give you a lot to talk about, you could pass on the potentially extremely dangerous career choice and just start working with animals instead! ok, ok, there are a lot of animals that can kill you, but if you work in a reputable institution, you should never be put in a position where you can get severely injured, barring some freak accident, of course.

as most of you know, i have been working with animals ever since high school in various different capacities - volunteer at vet clinics, intern at wildlife sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres and most recently as a live exhibitions keeper at a museum. my time at wrr in texas gave me some of my most entertaining experiences, including a great pig escape, getting skunked in the eye and receiving a lasting impression (read: scar) from an opossum.

/ weta on wood by matthew brauchi /
well today i gained another one to add to the volumes of animal-related tales, and this one involves a baby weta. for those of you that don't know, a weta is much like a cricket and at te manawa, we have a large enclosure with about 13 baby/juvenile cave weta that hatched a few months ago (read about our babies on beta weta geta or in our latest article in the manawatu standard). i take a particular interest in the weta, so i do spend a bit of time with my head poked into their enclosure trying to take pictures of them, feeding them or giving their enclosure a good clean. in those times, i have had weta antennae sweep across my face and several weta jump at or around me, all of which are experiences that most people would get pretty upset over, but luckily i've managed to keep my cool. today i nearly lost it.

/ weta sculpture made from car parts by chris meder /
when i entered the back of the weta cave today, i noticed something jumping around - oh no - a baby weta had escaped the enclosure. i quickly tried to capture him in the plastic container i was holding, but instead of jumping away from me, he jumped straight onto my leg (luckily i was wearing leggings so it didn't startle me too much) and i looked away for a second to grab the container, but when i looked back he was gone. i presumed he had jumped down between the floorboards and so got down on my hands and knees to look between the cracks.... when i felt something crawling up my back... under my dress! a dress may seem like unusual attire for an animal keeper, but we keepers at te manawa don't have a dirty, physical job like most being that we mostly take care of fish. but today, it suddenly seemed like the worst choice of attire ever. i lifted up my skirt and could just glimpse the weta feet that were crawling higher up and under my waistband. knowing i couldn't grab him since i actually couldn't twist around enough to do it and knew he would just jump off if i tried, i quickly opened the weta cave door and jumped in... and by jumped in, i mean i precariously perched with one foot on the door frame and one on the window frame about a metre apart! as i jumped in, i immediately tried to oust the persistent little weta, just hoping that at a half an hour before closing no one would be on the other side of the glass trying to spot the weta... well, no luck. just after i started pulling my skirt every which way (mostly up), three teenage boys came running past and started knocking at the glass. i was absolutely cracking up at this point and tried to quickly jump out of the cave and shut the door, hoping that the weta dropped out while i was still in the cave.

you'll be happy to know, that upon further inspection in the privacy of the back of the cave, i couldn't find any weta hiding in my dress so i think i successfully returned the poor escapee back to his home. mission accomplished??


Unknown said…
Oh, boy. I can just imagine the little dance you had to be doing back there. :) But I have to ask - Is it just the *shudder* factor that's creepy, or do these little guys bite/nip/sting?

Unknown said…
These guys don't bite (though maybe they could, but I'm not sure), they just have long legs and antennae and bounce around like crazy!
Unknown said…
Oh my god, I would have fainted. I used to have similar looking cave crickets in my basement. I called them spider crickets because of the close resemblance to my nemesis. No way I would've survived that experience without needing serious therapy! I admire your bravery :)

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