A viral photo taken mid-air has introduced the world to one of New Zealand’s more interesting creatures.
On Tuesday, a passenger on a Wellington to Auckland Air New Zealand flight discovered a surprise stowaway on the back of her safety card and tweeted the photo to the airline.
“Just wondering what the mask guidelines are for wētā on flights @FlyAirNZ?” Alex O’Connor asked.
She was referring the wētā, a large cricket that’s endemic to New Zealand, and considered one of the heaviest insects on the planet.
Ms O’Connor said the wētā was first spotted by another flyer on the other side of the row, who brought it to her attention.
“Not sure why aisle-mate thought she was doing me a favour by pointing out its existence,” she said.
The internet was immediately beset with a flurry of excitement over the illegal passenger.
“OMG I would die,” one Twitter user wrote. Another called it “the biggest ‘Nope’ I have seen in a long time”.
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“What the heck is that thing?” an international Twitter user asked.
Another pundit joined in, saying it was an “emotional support wētā”.
Ms O’Connor commented on the mid-air encounter, saying: “It honestly felt like NZ’s equivalent to snakes on a plane.”
She eventually brought it to the attention of the airline’s customer relations with her tweets.
“Wētā’s are exempt from masks on-board but sorry to see that he wasn’t keeping 2m away!” came the response from the official @FlyAirNZ account.
Ms O’Connor and the other passenger spent the rest of the flight trying to get the insect into a paper “sick bag” for its own protection.
On landing, the other passenger took the insect off Ms O’Connor’s hands. “She’s kindly delivering it back to nature somewhere,” Ms O’Connor said.
A spokesperson for Air New Zealand confirmed the incident to media, saying: “While Mr Weta wasn’t part of an official translocation, looks like he had a safe journey and made a few mates along the way.
“We understand that the customer across the aisle from the original tweeter is a conservation enthusiast and has returned him to the wild after experiencing Air New Zealand’s world class customer service.”
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) describes wētā as national “icons for invertebrate conservation” with many of the species under threat. So the passengers did the right thing by them.
Air New Zealand has worked with the DOC to deliver 4000 animals of different species to relocate them at conservation projects. This insect however was not a part of these translocation projects.
Last November the airline and DOC helped relocate 73 tuatara – a type of reptile – from Invercargill back to the care of Ngāti Koata in Marlborough Sounds habitats.
This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and was reproduced with permission