Volume 111 2002 > Volume 111, No. 3 > Shorter communications: Maori names for crickets, by Robert L. Brock, p 239-248
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Look into long grass in the late New Zealand summer and you will see a number of species of grasshoppers and crickets, some of which sing. In the warm evenings, you may hear the chirping of crickets and the katydid. The lowland plant communities where these insects live have been greatly modified, first by Māori and then by Europeans. The grasses are now mostly European species. Many of the insect species that thrive in them are also found in Australia or have close affinity to Australian species. Species that are more distinctive and unique to New Zealand are largely confined to the forests and mountains. The problem of when the Australian crickets first arrived led me to try to match early published Māori names and descriptions of crickets to species in the current fauna in order to gather evidence as to whether they were likely to have been present in New Zealand in pre-European times, or were post-European introductions. The resulting list of Māori names for crickets and related insects shows their level of specificity for this group of insects. It also illustrates dialect variation, and some of the problems early translators had with Māori language and lexicography.


Every language organises the living world into categories, of which the folk generic level, which recognises animals or plants as belonging to the same kind, is the most stable and psychologically basic level of categorisation (Goddard 1998:239). The generic has a single word for its name, a “primary lexeme” (p.252). For example, in English, “cricket” is a primary lexeme, the semi-technical “black field cricket” is a secondary lexeme, while a higher category is “insect”, a polytypic life-form term. As societies urbanise and lose contact with the natural world, their vocabularies will change. Brown (1979:805) explains:

Folk biological taxonomies tend to decay “from the bottom up” (from more specific classes to less specific classes) as people urbanise and become increasingly separated from direct reliance and dependence on the world of plants and animals… As a consequence, more general terms, such as life-form terms, become increasingly useful and salient…, so much so that they tend to increase in number. Thus the growth of ethnobiological life-forms ironically indexes an overall lack of interest in and interaction with the natural world.

It can therefore be surmised that Māori speakers in early European times knew and used more precise terms (primary lexemes) for living things than are known by - 240 current speakers and are retained in the modern Māori lexicon. However, Diamond (1966:1104) found that whereas the Fore people of New Guinea had a unique name for almost every species of bird in their environment, they had no specific names for the equally distinctive species of butterflies. He suggested that because some birds were of economic importance to the Fore they needed to differentiate them from the others, whereas no butterfly was of any economic significance. While crickets can be noticeable and of economic importance through crop damage, some species are kept as pets in East Asia for their songs or for staging fights between males.

Early lexicographers and naturalists in New Zealand experienced several problems when attempting to apply equivalent English terms to Māori names for living things. Faced with a novel biota, they used their own common or Latin names as far as they could, even though the Māori names might apply to different species or groups. There were also problems of accurate transcription of Māori pronunciations, which were compounded by dialect variations. In this study, I applied my entomological knowledge to names and their applications as described in the early New Zealand literature. A Māori linguist (Biggs 1984) then contributed his comments on Māori etymology, dialect variations and word usage. His insights into the individual recorders' problems with the Māori language will be useful to other researchers who use their material.

Names for Insects in Latin and Scientific English

The scientific names for insects are in the form of Latin binomials that consist of a generic and specific name. Each Latin name is unique to a single species that has received a formal published description of its distinctive morphological (and sometimes other) features. The name of the person who first described the species follows its Latin name. If the species has since been assigned to a different genus, the descriptor's name is in brackets. The biological species definition is: “A species is a group of interbreeding natural populations that is reproductively isolated from other such groups” (Mayr and Ashlock 1991:26). A third name designating a subspecies, a population showing consistent morphological differences from other populations (Mayr and Ashlock 1991:43-44), is little used in New Zealand entomology except for butterflies. Scientific names are subject to change according to formal rules when the taxonomy of a group is revised. This paper gives the current scientific names, together with any previous synonyms that appear in the referred literature.

The New Zealand Entomological Society publishes lists of standard English common names for species of insects (Ferro et al. 1977, Scott and Emberson 1999) that also include Māori names. The latter publication contains 1167 English names, nearly all secondary lexemes: one or more adjectives followed by a noun denoting the group. There are 79 Māori names, of which five appear in the English section as loanwords. These are the primary lexemes honi, huhu, katipo, porina and weta. While these lists of names are made available to be used in publications, the extent of their influence in general New Zealand English and Māori is uncertain. Latin names are international, but standard common names vary from country to country.

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The New Zealand crickets form a compact group of up to about 20 species of dark, drab insects ranging in body length from about 5 to 30mm. While the archetypal adult cricket can fly and the males sing by stridulation (rubbing a file on one forewing across a scraper on the other), many of the New Zealand species have lost one or both of these traits. The most noticeable species is the black field cricket, Teleogryllus commodus (Walker), which is relatively large and sings loudly if the temperature exceeds 15 degrees Celsius. If the nights are cooler than this, it will sing in the daytime, so it can be heard at any time of day except the early morning. It is found through much of the North Island and the warmer northern parts of the South Island.

New Zealand crickets belong to two taxonomic families. There is a single species of mole cricket, family Gryllotalpidae: Triamescaptor aotea Tindale. The other species are true crickets, Gryllidae. As with other groups of the New Zealand biota, some species are recent introductions from overseas, others have close affinities with Australian species and crossed the Tasman Sea by natural means, while a third group appears to be of ancient stock predating the separation of New Zealand from Gondwanaland. While T. commodus is now both an agricultural pest and internationally used for laboratory research, the other species are of no economic significance.

The crickets, katydid, long- and short-horned grasshoppers, and weta belong to the order Orthoptera. The other insect singers, the cicadas, belong to a different order of insects, the Hemiptera. However, the folk name “locust” has been applied both to the migratory locust Locusta migratoria Linnaeus, which is a short-horned grasshopper, and to the cicadas.

The scientific classification of the New Zealand cricket fauna is incomplete and somewhat confused. While about six species of true crickets have received scientific descriptions and names, there are several undescribed songless species in the forests. There has also been some confusion over species with Australian affinities. One of two small day-singing species now in the genus Bobilla was placed within the Australian fauna (L. Hudson 1973), but both also received new names as native insects (Swan 1972), according to the assumptions of the taxonomists who described them.

T. commodus was also initially assumed to be an introduction from Australia, where it also occurs (G. Hudson 1892:112, Best 1908:238), but Bigelow (1964:10) believed that morphological differences between populations of the cricket in Auckland and Nelson, and between New Zealand and Australian populations, indicate that the isolation of the populations in New Zealand is of long-standing and not simply a post-European phenomenon. The issue is of importance to the study of insect dispersal across the Tasman Sea. Also, genetic and behavioural variability between populations could affect the uniformity of laboratory stocks and the effectiveness of pest control measures. Finally, only species accepted as native receive conservation measures.

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The entomologist Miller (1952) culled from a lengthy list of sources a comprehensive vocabulary of Māori names for insects, including names for crickets. He recognised only three species of cricket in his paper. The Māori name honi he applied to the songless native mole cricket, Triamescaptor aotea. This species was incorrectly identified as the singing European species Gryllotalpa vulgaris Latreille, now revised to G. gryllotalpa (Linnaeus), by early European settlers. To Teleogryllus commodus (formerly Gryllulus commodus) he ascribed the Māori names areinga, pihareinga, piharenga, pirenga, tarakihi and tukurakau.

Miller's third species of cricket was Lissotrachelus maoricus, which is a synonym of the songless Metioche maoricum (Walker) (Wise 1977:48), but has also been applied to the small singing crickets of the genus Bobilla, formerly Pteronemobius, (Johns 1970:67). Miller listed the Māori areinga and the variants of pihareinga for L. maoricus.


Miller's terms (Miller 1952) are examined below, followed by other Māori names that have been applied to crickets.

Application of Pihareinga and its Variants to Teleogryllus commodus

Piharenga and pirenga were said by Taylor (1870a:642) to apply to the field cricket. His further comments on its song and distribution make it clear that T. commodus is intended: “Its chirrup resembles the singing of a bird, and in the south, where it is far from being common, the children keep it in bottles for its song.” T. commodus was the only species then present in New Zealand that sang loudly and melodically enough to be compared with a bird, and it was most common and numerous in the warmer northern and coastal parts of the North Island, being absent from the extreme south of the North Island and limited to the most northern parts of the South Island. While it is not entirely clear to what Taylor means by “in the south”, he probably meant the southern North Island.

Biggs (1984) commented:

Taylor's piharenga and pirenga were probably due to his mishearing. He was not good at Māori dipthongs, and he lived in a dialect area where h was replaced by glottal stop, which, being non-contrastive in most dialects of English, was not heard (or was considered unimportant) by the missionary linguists, and so was not indicated in their spelling.

Is Pihareinga of Māori Origin, or a Loan Word?

According to Biggs, Pihareinga appeared in the third edition of Williams' Māori Dictionary (W.L. Williams 1871) indicated in special type as being of non-Māori origin. In the fifth edition (H.W. Williams 1917), it is removed to a special list of borrowings and a possible origin from “bushranger” is mentioned. The third and fourth editions give the example: “Ko te pihareinga kei te noho maarire mo te raumati ka noho ai” which may mean “the cricket dwells quietly; it sings for the summer (only)”.

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Hongi (1918:226) claimed pihareinga as a genuine Māori term embedded in Māori lore and mythology, citing: “Te tatarakihi, te pihareinga; ko nga manu ena o Rehua” and “Tangi e te pihareinga, tohu o te raumati”. Hongi translated the first of these as “The Locust [cicada] and the Cricket are the (singing) birds of Rehua”. He explained that “Rehua” meant Sirius, signifying summer. The second one is rendered: “Sing on, O ye crickets, sign of the summer.”

Biggs (1984) agreed that pihareinga is an indigenous Māori word. He suggested a possible derivation from pihe “a dirge accompanied by waving the arms in token of grief” plus reinga “the underworld, world of spirits”. Biggs explained:

Pihe is a word widespread in Eastern Polynesia. (Unstressed e > a is a fairly common irregular sound change in Māori). In Rarotongan, reinga is the “chorus of a song” according to Savage's dictionary [Savage 1962:301].

Pihe is listed with its Eastern Polynesian cognates in Tregear (1891:335-36); reinga is on pp.407-8.

Biggs explained the connection between pihareinga and “bushranger” as a bilingual play on words:

In Ruatoria, where pihareinga is the word used for “cricket”, the unmarried girls of the district were referred to jokingly as pihareinga or “bushrangers” and I think the term referred both to their being like crickets, coming out at night and chattering and singing, and to “ranging” about flirtatiously.

Biggs added the comment that it seems rather odd that pihareinga does not appear in the 300 traditional songs of Nga Moteatea, but neither do the common words kihikihi and tarakihi “cicada”, nor rirerire the northern word for “cricket”.


Areinga was first recorded by Downes (1937:207) who related it to a cricket that “came about in vast numbers during a rainy season but did no harm”. Biggs (1984) commented:

If the form is genuine, the initial a was probably long. We know that Downes, like Taylor, lived and worked in the dialect area that substitutes glottal stop for h, so perhaps haa-reinga is a more likely form. Note haa ‘voice’….

Miller (1955:49) used areinga as a general term for crickets, but later (Miller 1971:140) restricted pihareinga to “the smaller native species”, a lead followed by Ramsey (1975:1662). However, Ramsay questioned whether these “native” species were really endemic to New Zealand (Roberts 1978:354). Williams (1957,1971:15) accepted areigna as a Whanganui term for the cricket “Gryllulus” which is a synonym of Teleogryllus.

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Miller (1952:43) accepts tarakihi as a name for cicadas, but adds, “…sometimes the black cricket, T. commodus or L. maoricus, since the record deals with a nocturnal experience when the fairies were singing like the cricket.” His authority is Grey (1885:177): “He mano te patupaiarehe, kei te tarakihi” which Grey (1855:227) translates as “The fairies are very numerous people; merry, cheerful, and always singing, like the cricket”. Biggs (1984) commented: “Tarakihi is the form used in Waikato for the cicada, according to my informant…. A better translation would be Fairies are numerous, like Cicadas.”


Miller (1952:48) cites Beattie (1917, 1920) for tukurakau. Beattie (1917:109) referred to “crickets or grasshoppers (tukurakau)”. Beattie (1920:65) does not refer to crickets, but mentions that grasshoppers are tukurakau. Biggs (1984) commented:

Beattie was in the South Island, where ng is replaced by k, so his tukurakau is the South Island equivalent of North Island tunga rakau. A tunga is a larva (of Prionus reticularis according to Williams). In the Urewera area, according to Williams (probably on the authority of Best), a tunga raakau ‘wood tunga’ is the larval stage and tunga rere ‘flying tunga’ is the adult. (*tuŋa has been reconstructed as a proto-Polynesian form glossed ‘maggot-like larva’).

Given this explanation of its etymology, tukurakau appears to have been misapplied both to crickets and grasshoppers.


Miller (1952:10) cites Taylor (1848, 1870a) and Tregear (1891) as his references for honi. However, honi is not listed in Taylor (1848). Taylor (1870a:643) referred to the Gryllotalpa, mole cricket, as honi. Tregear (1891, 1897:80) identified honi as the mole cricket, Gryllotalpa vulgaris. Miller (1952:10) remarked that G. vulgaris is the European mole cricket, found in New Zealand on only a few occasions (but all of the records are probably misidentifications of Triamescaptor aotea). He made the suggestion that honi related to the native mole-cricket T. aotea, but further supposed that it might also apply to subterranean species of weta, without any supporting evidence other than an assumption that T. aotea is uncommon. However, it has subsequently been found to be more widespread than Miller thought (Johns 1970:66) and there seems little chance that early recorders would have confused the distinctive mole-cricket with a weta. However, honi was used for weta in subsequent dictionaries: H. Williams (1957, 1971) and Biggs (1981).


Ryan (1971) defined kikipounamu as a cricket, but this is an example of how folk names can lead to confusion. It appears to refer to the katydid, Caedicia simplex Walker, and it is the Māori name that Ferro et al. (1977) use for that species. Although it is green in colour and not a cricket, the katydid has been referred to as green - 245 cricket, bush cricket and green bush cricket (Miller 1952:55, H. Williams 1957, 1971, Sharell 1971:130). “Bush cricket” is sometimes used in England for members of the family Tettigoniidae, to which the katydid belongs.


Taylor (1855:419) says, “there are many varieties of grasshopper mawitiwiti some of these attain a very large size; one of the largest pakauroaroa is a bright green colour: there is also a small black one.” Taylor (1848:5, 1870b:15) also uses mawhitiwhiti. Biggs (1984) explained that the term should be mawhitiwhiti. He adds that kōwhitiwhiti is a dialectical variant that is still current, while pākauroaroa means “long-wings”.

The identity of pākauroaroa is unclear: it could refer to green varieties of the migratory locust, Locusta migratoria,, which is called kapakapa and rangataua (Scott and Emberson 1999:71), or be another name for the katydid, Caedicia simplex, kikipounamu. The “small black one” included in māwhitiwhiti and logically also in kōwhitiwhiti is presumably one of the small crickets, either Metioche maoricum or Bobilla.


Biggs (1966) and H. Williams (1971) include rirerire as a North Auckland term for cricket. Brock (1979:18) incorrectly concluded that rire has the same meaning. Rirerire is also applied to the grey warbler Gerygone igata (Quoy and Gaymard) and to the young of the kiwi Apteryx species.


There are sufficient references to melodic singing crickets to conclude that Teleogryllus commodus was widespread in New Zealand in the 19th century. Three different names (areinga, pihareinga and rirerire) lend some support to its being native to New Zealand. If the problem is resolved for T. commodus and Bobilla, it will probably be through comparison of Australian and New Zealand specimens using genetic approaches to insect systematics.

While the three Māori terms certainly include Teleogryllus commodus, they cannot be said to refer exclusively to this species. Rather, they refer to all crickets, or at least all the singing ones. The Māori words for crickets and related insects conform more closely to the English folk generic names “cricket”, “grasshopper” and “katydid”, plus “mole cricket”, than to the scientific names for the individual species. Rather it is to higher level scientific taxa that the names conform. As the family Gryllotalpidae has the single species Triamescaptor aotea in New Zealand, honi covers both levels. The same is true for the katydid's sub-family, the Phaneropterinae of the family Tettigonidae. All the true crickets, family Gryllidae, are covered by areinga, pihareinga and rirerire. Māwhitiwhiti and kōwhitiwhiti cover the short-horned grasshoppers, family Acrididae, the long-horned grasshoppers, sub-family Conocephalinae of the family Tettigonidae, and perhaps the smaller crickets as well.

Three general names for crickets is probably too many. In biology it is accepted that two species cannot occupy the same ecological niche. Similarly, two words - 246 cannot have exactly the same meaning. Linguistics texts state: “true synonymy is so rare as to be almost non-existent” (Goddard 1998:17). One term will eventually predominate, depending on how widely it is used now and to what extent it appears in dictionaries and other learning materials.


This paper had a long gestation: I thank my supervisor at Victoria University in the 1970s, George Gibbs, and also Bill Winstanley who urged publication, did additional research and co-wrote the first draft. The draft was reviewed in 1984 by Bruce Biggs and Wendy Pond, who provided invaluable advice.

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