Nicola Toki with a gecko
Image: Air New Zealand © 


Every Friday our Threatened Species Ambassador Nicola Toki chats to Jesse Mulligan from Radio New Zealand about the not-so-cuddly critters that need our attention.


The Rangatira spider

Rangatira spider
Rangatira spider
Image: Markanderson72 | Creative commons

11 May 2018

This spider measures up to 12 centimetres long and loves to munch on wētā. They don't use the usual method of webs to catch their food, instead they pounce. 

They are found on Rangatira island and two other islands within the Chathams. This means there is a slim chance you will ever encounter one. 

The Rangatira spider on Critter of the Week

Past Critter of the Week chats

The White bellied skink

White bellied skink
White bellied skink
Image: Fauna Finders ©

11 May 2018

In just a few places in the mid-Canterbury high-country, White bellied skinks slink and slither between the sliding stones of scree slopes. 

This critically endangered reptile has a very long tail and a built-in visor to cope with the sun’s rays.

The White bellied skink on Critter of the Week

The kōtuku / White Heron

The kōtuku
Image: DOC

27 April 2018

In honour of ANZAC day - a bird we share with Australia (and South East Asia), the beautiful white heron (Eastern great egret).

In New Zealand it only breeds near Whataroa, South Westland, between September and January. This colony is in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve and guided jet boat tours take visitors to view the birds from an observation hide.

During the breeding season time, the birds feed in the large coastal lagoons in the area, particularly the nearby Ōkārito Lagoon.

After breeding, the birds disperse widely and may be seen at coastal freshwater wetlands or estuaries throughout the country.

The kōtuku on Critter of the Week

Giant Kōkopu

Giant kokopu
Giant Kōkopu
Image: Sjaan Bowie | DOC

20 April 2018

Aotearoa has five species of migrating fish. This week, to signify World Fish Migration Day, we talk about the largest species - Giant Kōkopu - and how barriers in waterways can prevent them from migrating.

Giant Kōkopu on Critter of the Week

Muehlenbeckia astonii

Muehlenbeckia astonii
Muehlenbeckia astonii
Image: Emma Neill | DOC

13 April 2018

In the wild, this attractive shrub is critically endangered, but many listeners will be familiar with Muehlenbeckia astonii as a popular garden plant.

It's one of New Zealand's few truly deciduous plants ((divaricate = stretch or spread apart; diverge widely).

Muehlenbeckia astonii on Critter of the Week

The Pseudoscorpion

Image: Phil Bendle | Creative Commons

6 April 2018

Although New Zealand is thankfully free of scorpions, we do have pseudoscorpions. They look very similar to their counterparts, but without the fearsome tail and sting.

These tiny critters maintain a small carbon footprint – by hitching rides on other flying insects.

Pseudoscorpion on Critter of the Week

Galaxias “Teviot”

Galaxias “Teviot”

23 March 2018

This freshwater fish is one of the group of 'non-migratory galaxiids' - they live out their days in the exact same stream or river in which they hatched.

The Teviot flathead galaxias are very rare, they share the same threat status as the kākāpo, but they're hardy fish that can withstand cold winters and scorching summers.

Galaxias “Teviot” on Critter of the Week

Little brown moth

Little brown moth.
Little brown moth

16 March 2018

This moth is so diminutive and endangered that it doesn’t even have a common name.

Clinging to existence in a few coastal sites near Invercargill, the ‘little brown moth’ will be emerging from as an adult moth over the next couple of weeks. 

Little brown moth on Critter of the Week


Image: Philip Ross ©

9 March 2018

Once harvested, canned and enjoyed by many in a strong-tasting soup; our large and endemic bivalve mollusc toheroa was taken in such high numbers that restrictions have been in place since the ‘70s, culminating in a total ban except for some customary take. 

Toheroa on Critter of the Week

Mottled Petrel

Mottled petrel
Mottled Petrel

2 March 2018

This week we look at Pterodroma inexpectata, Kōrure or Mottled Petrel.

The short black billed seabird is endemic to the country, breeding only at a few sites in southern New Zealand. 

Mottled Petrel on Critter of the Week

Te Kakahu skink

Te Kakahu skink
Te Kakahu skink

23 February 2018

Te Kakahu/Chalky Island skink is known to only live in one small area in Chalky Inlet, Fiordland.

It was first discovered in 2002 by members of the Kakapo Recovery Team and was formally described in 2011.

Although very similar to the southern and cryptic skink the Te Kakahu skink is genetically distinct. It is more sturdy than the cryptic skink and has small black markings on its back

Te Kakahu skink on Critter of the Week

Paua slug

Paua slug
Carmichaelia juncea 

16 February 2018

Paua slugs, or Schizoglossa, are a bit of everything.

These carnivorous slugs are found only in the North Island of NZ and have a distinctive paua shaped shell on their back.

They are officially a 'semi-slug', and like a paua are a gastropod but the resemblance of the shell is a coincidence

Paua slug on Critter of the Week

Carmichaelia juncea

Carmichaelia juncea
Carmichaelia juncea 

9 February 2018

Carmichaelia juncea occurs in South Westland and did occur in the Waimakariri area but fell prey to hares, rabbits, and collectors. However, within the last twenty years, a plant was found, on the other side of the world in the Edinburgh gardens!

Collectors from Scotland had at one stage in time take seed and planted it, and this became the father of all future C. juncea plants. 

Carmichaelia juncea on Critter of the Week

Swamp helmet orchid

Swamp helmet orchid.
Swamp helmet orchid

2 February 2018

Corybas carsei, the swamp helmet orchid is a tiny orchid that will grow to twice its height when a seed capsule develops by way of the stalk of the capsule elongating to a mighty 5-6 cm tall! All the better for its dust-like seeds to be caught by the wind and disperse away from the parent plant.

This orchid also seems to need fire to survive!

Swamp helmet orchid on Critter of the Week

Cabbage Tree moth

Cabbage tree moth
Cabbage Tree moth
Image: Dan and Sharon  | Creative Commons

26 January 2018

At rest, just like most other moths, the wings of the cabbage tree moth lie flat.  Yet it’s as if the moth wears an invisibility cloak as it sleeps – the lines on its wings align perfectly with the veins on the dead leaves of (their host plant) cabbage trees (Cordyline spp.), making the moth nearly impossible to see.

They also lay their eggs on the leaves in neat and tidy parallel rows.

Cabbage Tree moth on Critter of the Week

Bee aware

Native NZ bee
Native NZ Bee
Image: Phil Bendle | Creative Commons

15 December 2017

New Zealand has 28 species of native bee, 27 of them are endemic.

DOC’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, helps us to understand that when it comes to NZ native bees, we’re talking solitary, small, usually black insects that generally mind their own ‘beesness’ and that do not make honey! 

Bee aware on Critter of the Week

NZ Cicadas

Chorus cicada
Chorus cicada
Image: Jon Sullivan | Creative Commons

8 December 2017

New Zealand has about 40 species of cicada - all of them unique to us. There are about 2500 species known worldwide. Our cicadas are in five Genera, three of which are endemic as well - Amphipsalta, Rhodopsalta and Maoricicada.

The other two genera are almost ours - each have only one or two representatives in Australia and Norfolk Island - Notopsalta and Kikihia.

NZ Cicadas on Critter of the Week

Ohau Rock Daisy

Ohau rock daisy
Ohau Rock Daisy
Image: Shannel Courtney | DOC

1 December 2017

The Ohau Rock Daisy, or Pachystegia (which means "thickly covered" - referring to the dense felty hairs covering the leaf undersides and stems) is an endemic genus to New Zealand and is confined to North Canterbury and South Marlborough.

It's habitat was badly affected by the Kaikoura quake and efforts are underway to replant the rock daisy on the bedrock bluffs where it thrives..

Ohau Rock Daisy on Critter of the Week

Flax snail

Flax snail at Te Paki
Flax snail at Te Paki
Image: Greg Sherley | DOC

24 November 2017

Flax snails belong to the genus Placostylus, and were known to Māori as pūpūharakeke. Three native species are recognised.

They live in coastal broadleaf forests and surrounding scrubland in northern New Zealand.

The young live in trees and feed on micro-organisms that grow on the leaves. When they mature, they move down to the ground. Despite their name they do not feed on flax, but eat the fallen leaves of trees such as karaka, kohekohe and rangiora.

Flax snail on Critter of the Week

Long-tailed bat

Long-tailed bat.
Long-tailed bat
Image: DOC

17 November 2017

The long-tailed bat is a tiny little creature the size of your thumb but they can fly up at 60 kilometres per hour and have very strong homing abilities. An aerial insectivore, it feeds on small moths, midges, mosquitoes and beetles.

They are chestnut brown in colour, have small ears and weigh 8-11 grams. The bat's echo-location calls include a relatively low frequency component which can be heard by some people.

Long-tailed bat on Critter of the Week

The New Zealand giant springtail

10 November 2017

New Zealand giant springtail.
New Zealand giant springtail
Image: Dwinter | Creative Commons

Springtails or collembola are teeny tiny wingless/flightless, litter dwellers that aid greatly in breaking down dead leaves to release nutrients.

The name springtail cannot always be used though, because not all of the Collembola have an appendage called a 'furcula' which is held under tension beneath the abdomen and released or flicked to throw the creature several centimetres away.

New Zealand giant springtail on Critter of the Week

Nau / Cook's scurvy grass

3 November 2017

Cook's scurvy grass
Cook's Scurvy Grass: Lepidium oleraceum 
Image: DOC

NZ has several species in the genus Lepidium – the coastal cresses - and many of them are "in serious trouble" and very endangered. Without conservation management, extinction of one or more species is highly likely. 

Today we focus on one of those species, Nau, which grows in many different coastal places in New Zealand but is the only endemic coastal cress found in the far north. It also has a connection with a historical visitor to that region.

Nau / Cook's scurvy grass on Critter of the Week

South island lichen moth

South Island lichen moth (Declana egregia) Photo: Landcare Research CC-BY 4.0.
South Island lichen moth
Image: Landcare Research | CC-BY 4.0

27 October 2017

The South Island lichen moth is also known as the zebra moth. Despite appearing to be black and white, it camouflages perfectly with the lichen on tree trunks that it settles on.

You'll find it on the corner of the $100 bill (if you're lucky enough to have held one).

South island lichen moth on Critter of the Week.

Giant centipede

Centipede Cormocephalus rubriceps. Image: Colin Miskelly Te Papa.
Giant centipede Cormocephalus rubriceps
Image: Colin Miskelly | Te Papa

20 October 2017

It's the 100th episode of Critter of the Week, so to mark that we celebrate the centipede!

Well it doesn't actually have 100 legs, but it does have quite a few!

New Zealand has several species of centipede – some endemic, some native – they are found in many different habitats from sea level to altitude. They also vary in size from less than a centimetre to the very freaky, giant Cormocephalus rubriceps.

Giant centipede on Critter of the Week.

Wrybill/ngutu pare

Wrybill/ngutu pare.
Wrybill/ngutu pare
Image: Andrew Walmsley © 

13 October 2017

The wrybill/ngutu pare is the only bird in the world with a laterally-curved bill!

It breeds on large braided rivers in central south island, preferring large dynamic rivers that will not become overgrown with weeds. 

After breeding, almost the entire population migrates north to winter in the harbours of the northern North Island, notably the Firth of Thames and Manukau Harbour.

Wrybill on Critter of the Week.

Chevron skink

Chevron skink - close up of head.
Chevron skink

6 October 2017

The chevron skink is one of New Zealand's rarest and most secretive lizards. 

They are currently only known to be found on Great Barrier Island / Aotea and Te Hauturu-o-Toi / Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf.

There have only been around 500 sightings reported since it was first described in 1906.

Chevron skink on Critter of the Week.

Black foot pāua

Black foot pāua. Photo H. Zell CC BY-SA 3.0.
Black foot pāua
Image: H. Zell | Creative Commons

29 September 2017

Pāua shells can be seen in jewellery and souvenirs stores around the country but there's only one species that have the beautiful shells, the black foot pāua.

There are two other species in New Zealand waters, clinging with all their might to rocks so they don't get swept away.

Black foot pāua on Critter of the Week.

Hochstetter's frog

Hochstetter frog.
Hochstetter frog
Image: Greg Sherley

22 September 2017

The Hochstetter's frog are small, nocturnal, and are hard to see as they camouflage themselves very well. Three of our species live on land in shady, moist forested areas, and one is semi-aquatic, living on stream edges.

They are also different from frogs elsewhere in the world because they have no external eardrum. They also have round rather than slit pupils in their eyes, they don't croak much and they don't have a tadpole stage!

Hochstetter's frog on Critter of the Week.


Image: Dick Veitch

15 September 2017

Kākābeak or ngutukākā is named for its beautiful red flowers, which hang in clusters of 15-20 blooms and are shaped like a kaka's beak.

Kākābeak is a plant of special significance to New Zealand. There are two species, both seriously threatened with extinction in the wild: Clianthus puniceus and Clianthus maximus. Its conservation status is Nationally Critical and is found only in New Zealand, with its closet relative in Australia.

Kākābeak on Critter of the Week.

Leopard seal

Leopard seal.
Leopard seal
Image: Brent Tandy

8 September 2017

Leopard seals move on land like a lumbering caterpillar. Their hind flippers are fused to the pelvis in a way that means they cannot bring them together under their bodies to walk on them.

But underwater they are extremely streamlined. They are adapted to diving to decent depths and can spend a long time underwater between breaths.

Leopard seal on Critter of the Week.

Bat-winged fly

Bat-winged fly. Image: Brian Patrick.
Bat-winged fly
Image: Brian Patrick ©

1 September 2017

The bat-winged fly is found in the Paparoa Range south of Fiordland. Like other alpine insects (butterflies, cicadas) it basks in the sun on stones and rocks, presumably absorbing heat/energy from the sun and this is amplified for the male by his large, dark, pantaloon wings.

Bat-winged fly on Critter of the Week.

Back Beach beetle

Back Beach beetle. Image: Andy Macdonald.
Back Beach beetle
Image: Andy Macdonald ©

25 August 2017

The Back Beach beetle is only found in one place in the world, and it also happens to be one of this country's most beautiful beachs - Back Beach (part of Tahunanui Beach in Nelson).

The Back Beech beetle is a very small, flightless ground beetle. Its body is about 4 mm long and 1.3 mm wide. These beetles live in open or sparsely vegetated sand in the high intertidal area, and their habitat is inundated by spring tides each month.

Back Beach beetle on Critter of the Week.

Kawakawa looper caterpillar.
Kawakawa looper caterpillar
Image: Phil Bendle | Creative Commons

Kawakawa looper catepillar and moth

11 August 2017

Ever wondered what makes those holes in the leaves of the kawakawa shrub? 

The kawakawa looper moth is found throughout New Zealand. The caterpillar chews its way out of the egg. It feeds on young leaves of its favoured host plant, kawakawa, and other native trees and shrubs.

Kawakawa looper on Critter of the Week.

Eldon's galaxiid.
Eldon's galaxiid

Eldon's galaxiid

4 August 2017

Eldon's galaxiid is one of our non-migratory galaxiids - endemic freshwater fish, and so named for the 'galaxy' of silvery gold spots on their backs which were compared to the stars in a galaxy by those who first identified them.

There are 12 species of non-migratory galaxiids and a further 13 indeterminate taxa recognised in New Zealand.

Eldon's galaxiid on Critter of the Week.

New Zealand fur seal.
New Zealand fur seals

New Zealand fur seal

28 July 2017

This week Nicola tells us all about the New Zealand fur seal. Usually we do the less cutesy critters, but she says the fur seal is sometimes a bit misunderstood and maligned.

New Zealand fur seal on Critter of the Week.

The vegetable caterpillar

Vegetable catepillar.
Vegetable caterpillars

21 July 2017

Vegetable caterpillars are neither vegetables, nor caterpillars (well not living ones anyway), but are instead the mummified remains of Porina moth caterpillars found in the forest, that have been taken over by a fungus!

They have been a curious object of fascination by New Zealanders for hundreds of years, but they are a well-studied species of fungus called Ophiocordyceps robertsii.

Vegetable caterpillar on Critter of the Week.



14 July 2017

These tiny little crazy looking aquatic creatures that are some of the most hardy species on earth. They have been around for over 500 million years and have super powers!

They can exist at temperatures below -272 Degrees Celsius, can exist in space in a vacuum, and can be frozen for thirty years, only to come back to life!

Tardigrade on Critter of the Week.

Jewelled gecko. Image: Sabine Bernert copyright.
Jewelled gecko
Image: Sabine Bernert ©

Jewelled gecko

30 June 2017

Gecko's are fascinating creatures. They have 'sticky' feet: their toes are covered with microscopic hairs that allow them to climb sheer surfaces and even walk upside down across the ceiling.

Unlike skinks, geckos cannot blink and must lick their eyes to keep them moist. 

Jewelled gecko on Critter of the Week.

More Critter of the Week

See the entire Critter of the Week collection on the Radio New Zealand website. 

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