Strange encounters on the tussocks

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.

Praying Mantis nymph

I also found quite a few leafhopper nymphs.

Leafhopper nymph, 2mm long

One activity that I forgot to list was mating. A pair of moths were busy organising the next generation.

Mating moths

Tussock grasses seem to be a favourite spot for small flies and wasps to sleep.

Sleeping fly
Sleeping wasp

Katydid nymphs are also starting to emerge. A Twig-mimicking Katydid (Zaprochilus) was doing its best to look inconspicuous.

Zaprochilus nymph

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.

Dorsal view showing wings

I found another Katydid nymph not far away.

Katydid nymph

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.

Fungus Gnat

Cup Moth larvae have started making their appearance.

Cup Moth larva

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).

Native Cranberry Moth
Native Cranberry Moth

A small bug on one tussock looked to me like a Mirid Bug nymph.

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.

Chlenias with a mystery parcel

Another caterpillar similar in size and shape to Chlenias was magnificently camouflaged.

I look like a stick too!

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 puzzling fly

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.

Huntsman

8 responses to “Strange encounters on the tussocks

  1. Thank you Patrick for a wonderful set of photos and information.

  2. The cranberry moth looks as if it has a hem sown around the wing margins – what a marvelous creature. As for the fly fungus – hitching taken to another level!.

  3. Thanks Patrick, wonderful photos and stories to go with them. It’s inspired me to do some night time exploration myself. Are you just using torch light to find insects?

  4. ageschkephotography

    Brilliant! As always but particularly enjoyed this invertebrate edition- cant wait to get out of stage 4.

  5. Frances Cincotta

    Wow Patrick you are such an explorer and explainer – thankyou! I will look out for Chlenias with parcels – plenty of those larvae here!

  6. Thankyou Patrick. The magnificent world of insects… Was just wondering the other day about prey mantis’s… are they dormant during winter?

    • Thanks Julie. I don’t know what they do over winter – whether they survive or we get a new generation. I’ll have to do some research.

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