7 unusual traits our native species have

Department of Conservation —  18/11/2017

Isolated from the rest of the world on a little island in the Pacific, we New Zealanders sometimes do things differently from the rest of the world. This can be great (we pioneered the women’s vote and bungy jumping after all) but it can also be a bit questionable. I’m looking at you stubbies.

Our native species have been in isolation for a long time. As a result, our native species have evolved to develop unusual traits in the animal kingdom.

1. Our native frogs don’t croak

New Zealand has four native species of frog/pepeketua, and none of them can hear a thing you’re saying. Our frogs are different to the rest of the world’s because they don’t have external eardrums – croaking is no good to them. No matter how loudly they croak at their significant other, they’re never going to pass the remote. New Zealand frogs make almost no sound at all, aside from the odd chirp or squeak if they’re harassed.

Hamilton's frog. © Sabine Bernert

Hamilton’s frog. © Sabine Bernert

2. And they’re never tadpoles

Instead of having an awkward adolescent tadpole phase, kiwi frogs develop inside an egg and hatch as an almost fully-formed frog. At this stage they aren’t fully independent – most species are reliant on their parents for a wee while yet. The male Archey’s frog, for example, sometimes carries his young offspring around on his back.

Archey's frog and froglet. © Martin Hunter

Archey’s frog and froglet. © Martin Hunter

3. Our native bees don’t live in hives

Not content with living a communal life and serving their queen, our bees chase the idea of owning their own home instead. They’ll find a mate at the local watering hole (read: flower patch) and create a cell to lay their eggs in after stocking it up with pollen and nectar.

Native New Zealand bee.

Native New Zealand bee

4. Our native birds don’t fly

Well, lots of them don’t anyway. Take our icon, the kiwi, which looks much more like a mammal than a bird. Not only is it flightless, but it’s feathers are more like fur, it has nostrils on the end of its beak instead of the base, and it even has a bunch of super-sensitive whiskers similar to those of a cat or dog. Most birds could be forgiven for not recognising kiwi as kin!


Kiwi showing off its whiskers

Kiwi aren’t alone either. New Zealand has a plethora of flightless birds, from our giant, flightless parrots the kākāpō, to our flightless swamphens the takahē.

Flightless takahē. © Leon Berard

5. Oh, and our native bats prefer not to fly too

New Zealand’s short-tailed bats/pekapeka seem to have taken a leaf out of our birds’ book and developed a fondness for the forest floor. Instead of using their wings to catch prey in the air, the short-tailed bat does most of its hunting on the ground. It still uses its wings, but as not-so-graceful ‘front-limbs’ for scrambling around.

New Zealand short-tailed bat.

New Zealand short-tailed bat. © David Mudge/Ngā Manu

6. Our native ducks don’t quack

Not to be part of the status quo, male whio/blue ducks whistle, while females growl. In fact, that’s where they get the name whio, which is Māori for whisle.


Whio/blue duck. © Stephanie Kerrisk

7. Our native lizards don’t lay eggs

Well, apart from one: the egg-laying skink. All of the rest give birth to live young. This is unusual for lizards, and probably due to our cold climate. Lizard mums are also pregnant (technically gravid) for a really long time, with some South Island geckos carrying their young for over a year!

Common gecko. © Sabine Bernert

Common gecko. © Sabine Bernert

5 responses to 7 unusual traits our native species have


    Native species include native plants. How about more stories about the unusual traits of many of our native plants?


    Whaaaaat? You criticise stubbies? That’s pretty rich considering half of DOC staff wear them. 🙂 Great post, thanks. Yes, bring on the plant post. What a wondrous world of weirdness we Kiwi’s live in!

    Kim Brandon 18/11/2017 at 7:20 pm

    Love these great facts. NZ species are soooo independant. Thanks for sharing


    Great read….Fascinating. Thanks


    Very cool post. Maybe some endemic plants need a promo too…