A wander into the grassy woodland at our place the other night led to some interesting encounters and a puzzle with a solution reminiscent of science fiction.
Focusing my attention on the Poa and Austrodanthonia grasses, I was impressed by how many invertebrates were either sleeping, feeding of hunting on them. And it seems that a lot of insects are waking from their winter down time. I was delighted to find a tiny Praying Mantis nymph, all of 15mm long.
I also found quite a few leafhopper nymphs.
One activity that I forgot to list was mating. A pair of moths were busy organising the next generation.
Tussock grasses seem to be a favourite spot for small flies and wasps to sleep.
Katydid nymphs are also starting to emerge. A Twig-mimicking Katydid (Zaprochilus) was doing its best to look inconspicuous.
When this nymph is an adult, its wings will project strikingly upwards from its thorax, looking like a forked twig. As a nymph, theu are tiny buds just discernible.
I found another Katydid nymph not far away.
Hanging on a silk thread between two grass strands, I found a fungus gnat with a large, swollen and very red abdomen. My guess is that she’s heavily pregnant, but would be happy to hear any more informed explanations.
Cup Moth larvae have started making their appearance.
On the ground, perhaps knocked off a wattle as I moved around, I found an exquisite green moth. I assumed it has a relationship with wattles or eucalypts, but I discovered that its a Native Cranberry Moth (Poecilasthena pulchraria) and its caterpillars feed on native cranberry bushes (Astroloma).
A small bug on one tussock looked to me like a Mirid Bug nymph.
Other larval forms about are, of course, caterpillars. Chlenias are still very abundant, but not in quite the enormous numbers of last week. I was puzzled that a small percentage of them seem to have small parcels stuck on their backs. One suggestion is that it might be the skin from a previous shedding that hasn’t come unstuck yet. I’d appreciate any thoughts.
Another caterpillar similar in size and shape to Chlenias was magnificently camouflaged.
One fly that I found on a Golden Wattle leaf had me really puzzled. It didn’t look dead as its eyes were quite clean, but it was quite immobile and had a lot fuzz on its abdomen. Its wings and legs were in a very odd posture.
A bit of research led me to the fungus Entomophthora muscae, which as its name implies specialises in flies. When the spores come into contact with a fly, they have enzymes that break through the skin of the insect, allowing the fungal threads to spread through the fly. The fungus digests the organs of the fly and as the fly gets sicker, the fungus alters it’s brain function to make the hapless insect climb to a high point on a leaf, stretch its wings and legs. All of this sets the fly up perfectly for the next step. The fungus by now has spread microscopic canons over the abdomen and these will shoot spores out for them to land on the next victim. The wing and leg positions optimise the range of the spores.
And of course, where there are insects, there are those that eat them. Especially spiders. Like a baby Huntsman, about 10mm long.