Author Archives: Patrick Kavanagh

Ants, an autumn orchid et cetera

When all else fails, the insect macrophotographer can always rely on ants. In times of low invertebrate numbers, they are always there running the show. On a warm autumn day, the Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus near our dam have been out and about. I was intrigued to watch one industrious lady struggle mightily to drag a Grey Box leaf towards the nest. She made absolutely no progress with it at all and none of her sisters seemed to want to help. I have no idea what she wanted it for.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

Meat Ant and leaf #1

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

#2

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

I think the raised leg was more for leverage than a request for help.

By night, I found an ant with a significant mite infestation. I had seen this in previous years and the species of ant seemed the same. On bowerbird.org.au it was suggested that the previous ant was a Polyrhachis queen and this looked the same. My source said it was not uncommon to see them with mites. An both of my encounters with ants in this state were in mid-autumn.

Ant with mites (Polyrhachis?)

Polyrhachis? with mites

Flies of all shapes and sizes are common at the moment, but mostly very uncooperative sitters for portraits. Lots of Robber Flies seem to enjoy afternoon sun bathing and even a bit of amorous coupling, but have steered well clear of my lens. Bee Flies (Geron sp.) are also around in good numbers and tend to be more relaxed.

Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

Bee Fly on Drooping Sheoak

Whilst ants, flies and moths are abundant at the moment, we still seem short on the usual quotient of insects that chew leaves and suck sap. So I was pleased to find at least a couple of these recently. There have been a few leafhopper nymphs snuggling into the angles of branches of wattles and eucalypts to avoid detection.

Leafhopper nymph

Leafhopper nymph

I’ve also found a few tiny weevils on Golden Wattle leaves.

Weevil

Weevil

And finally, I was pleased to find a Parson’s Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)or two putting out some flowers.

Parson's Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)

Parson’s Band Orchid

Cassinia flowers – and who’s interested?

Cassinia sifton is a common native understorey species in our area and has important functions as a coloniser of damaged woodlands. It’s been known as Chinese Scrub as the gold miners of the 1850s thought the Chinese miners had brought it. Coffee Bush is another common term as it smells a bit like coffee (the instant variety as far as I can tell) and Drooping Cassinia is another.

Cassinia sifton

Cassinia sifton

There is some contention about whether it is indigenous to Victoria or was introduced from by Europeans from NSW. Regardless of how long it’s been here, it’s certainly part of the ecosystem now and provides nesting habitat for birds, support for invertebrates and does a lot of catching of leaf litter to stop sheet erosion.

Autumn is the time that this species puts out it’s modest red flowers, drooping from the ends of it’s fragile foliage.

Cassinia sifton flowers

Cassinia flowers about to open

I gather that pollination for this species is thought mainly to be by wind, but over the years, I’ve tried to see if any insects might be involved at any point. Every now and then I find someone sitting on the flowers, but they only seem to use them as a perch.

Tricolor Soldier Beetles (Chauliognathus tricolor) are about and breeding in significant numbers and I have found some using Cassinia as a useful venue for their activity!

Tricolor Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus tricolor)

Tricolor Soldier Beetles on Cassinia sifton

When I look at my past photos of these beetles mating, it’s always late February or early March. While there are quite a few around, I have to say that their numbers are well short of previous years.

I’ve also found a few Bee Flies (Geron sp) resting on Cassinia flowers by day or snoozing on them at night. They don’t look to be interested in the flowers other than as a perch.

Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

A Bee Fly snoozes on Cassinia at night

Night time is quite helpful for macrophotography as sleeping insects make much more amenable subjects than when they’re awake and likely to fly off. Lauxanid flies seem to be quite heavy sleepers, like this on on a garlic chive plant.

Lauxanid Fly

Lauxanid fly

In the generally impoverished insect fauna that we seem to have at the moment, I was pleased to find a few tiny Psyllid Bugs sucking on the branchlets of a Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) in our yard. These were only a couple of millimetres long and challenged even my MP-E65 supermacro lens to get a good shot of. They were so intent on feeding that they were mercifully stationary.

Psyllid Bug

Psyllid Bug

We’ve also had a few Red and Blue Beetles around, on both Cassinia and Sheoaks.

Red and Blue Beetle (Dicranolaius?)

Red and Blue Beetle (Dicranolaius sp?)

 

The pollinators have finished, it’s time for leaf munchers and sap harvesters

With few plants flowering in our bush now, the pollinators have taken a back seat and my forays with the macro lens reveal other invertebrates feasting on our native vegetation.

Common at this time of year, but less so this year than in most, are Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug nymphs (Amorbus sp.) Nymphs are juvenile stages which look like the adult, as opposed to larvae like maggots and caterpillars which look utterly different to their adult forms. Each stage of moulting the skin is referred to as an “instar”. One Amorbus species at our place has early instars that are brilliant orange with blue-grey edges. These are about 12mm long.

Eucalyptus Tip-wilter Bug instar (Amorbus sp)

Early stage Amorbus instar

Being bugs means they have tube mouth parts, which in the case of these bugs they insert into eucalypt stems to suck the sap.

Eucalyptus Tip-wilter Bug instar (Amorbus sp)

Inserting the tube

In the next few stages, the instars are less brilliantly coloured, but seem to have a pair of fake eyes on their abdomens. The bugs rely on smelly secretions to deter predators and are therefore fairly happy to sit still for photographs. They’ve yet to be upset enough to spray me.

Eucalyptus Tip-wilter Bug instar (Amorbus sp)

A later Amorbus instar

Beetles are also out and about, chewing happily on leaves. I found one tiny beetle, <4mm long, on a Grey Box leaf.

Shield Bug nymph

Beetle #1

I found another beetle with a very elongated thorax on a Golden Wattle leaf. I’ve not been able to work out what species it is.

Beetle - Cordus sp.

Beetle #2

Weevils are also beetles and they are also around feeding on eucalypt leaves.

Weevil

Weevil

A variety of ant species also seem to be harvesting things from the branches of shrubs and trees. Rhytidoponera ants (or Wrinkle ants) are common on our Grey Box suckers.

Rhytidoponera sp.

Rhytidoponera sp.

When I looked closely at some of the photos of this lady, she was carrying a small drop of fluid in her mandibles. As there’d been no rain or dew, I assume it may be some sap she’s gleaned from the plant.

Rhytidoponera sp.

With some precious liquid

Black-headed Sugar Ants (Camponotus nigriceps) have always seemed particularly beautiful to me, in temperament as well as appearance. This lady was so engrossed by whatever she was getting from this Grey Box that she was completely indifferent to the interference by a photographer trying to get a good angle.

Black-headed Sugar Ant (Camponotus nigriceps)

Black-headed Sugar Ant

Black-headed Sugar Ant (Camponotus nigirceps)

Up close

Of course, there will always be predators. This Praying Mantis nymph was patrolling a Golden Wattle by night.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis nymph

Praying Mantis

Telling me to go away

Sweet Bursaria keeps on giving

The Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) plants in our bush just seem to keep on flowering and are an ongoing source of delight for invertebrates and macrophotographer alike.

There are a few species of small sweat bees visiting the flowers, but many are too fast to get a photo of. One (Lassioglossum I think) was a little more cooperative.

Bee (Lassioglossum?) on Sweet Bursaria

Lassioglossum bee, perhaps

Flies are also great fans of the flowers. At least 2 different species of Bee Fly (genus Geron) have been in attendance. The first photo is of a species about half the size of that in the second image.

Bee Fly (Geron Sp)

Bee Fly species #1

Bee Fly (Geron Sp)

Bee Fly species #2

The Bee Flies are small, the larger of those two about the size of your usual mosquito friend. Larger brown flies – a smidge bigger than a house fly – are also common on the Bursaria.

Fly

Fly

And where there are insects seeking pollen, there are hunters. Like this very swollen Crab Spider with her catch.

Crab spider & fly

Crab Spider with her fly

Another hunter that I found was a tiny Praying Mantis nymph, about 20 mm long.

Praying Mantis nymph_19-12-16_1

Praying Mantis nymph

There are also quite a few White-spotted Pintail Beetles (Hoshihananomia leucosticta) at present. A common name for a species could not be more apt!

White-spotted Pintail Beetle (Hoshihananomia leucosticta)

White-tailed Pintail Beetle

I am struck by the degree of articulation between the head and the thorax of these beetles. So many beetles seem to have a head almost immovable with respect to their bodies.

White-spotted Pintail Beetle (Hoshihananomia leucosticta)

#2

White-spotted Pintail Beetle (Hoshihananomia leucosticta)

#3

As night falls on the Hardenbergia

The Hardenbergia climbing on our fence is a great spot to find insects at night. It’s a place where some seem to like sleeping and others are on the hunt.

I can regularly find Lauxanid flies on the leaf tips and branches. They are very unresponsive to the bright light I use to find them and I suspect they are snoozing. From browsing the internet, I think this is of the genus Homoneura. Not much information to be readily gleaned on these, except that there are 1800 genuses world wide and that the larvae live mostly in the leaf litter, which is their source of food.

Lauxanid fly

Homoneura fly

Not sleeping, but out for an evening meal was this Common Gum Tree Shield Bug. These bugs have sucking mouth parts for feeding on sap. Perhaps the diet of this one is a bit broader than the name implies.

Shield Bug

Common Gum Tree Shield Bug (Poecilometis patruelis)

Shield Bug

And a profile…

Apparently sleeping was this small wasp, about 5mm long. I wonder if this was the same species that ended up in the jaws of a Wolf Spider nearby a few weeks back.

Wasp

Wasp

As I was busy photographing the above wasp, an even smaller wasp species walked slowly across the leaf.

Wasps

A little friend – or enemy?

Off topic for a moment, I met an even smaller wasp climbing out of the seeds of a Shiny Everlasting recently. This one would have to be less than one millimetre long.

Tiny wasp in Everlasting seeds

Very small indeed!

Back to the nocturnal action on the Hardenbergia, I was delighted to find a tiny hunter on the prowl. I thought it was a Praying Mantis nymph, all of 20mm long, but a few knowledgeable people on Flickr pointed out that it is a Mantid Fly or Mantid Lacewing of the family Mantispidae. They are distinguished by their large, clear wings and short antennae. The adults feed in the same way as Praying Mantises, hence the similar front legs.

Mantis Fly

Mantis Fly

A bit surprised by the light and attention, this little one wasn’t going to back off, but decided to shape up to the intruder instead.

Praying Mantis nymph_19-12-13_11

Getting ready.

Moving away from the Hardenbergia I found a leafhopper on a Grey Box sucker.

Leafhopper

Leafhopper – another sap-sucking bug.

On the remains of an exhausted Shiny Everlasting flower, all seeds dispersed, I found this Seed-eating Bug (Nysius sp?) perhaps about to head off for richer pickings.

Geocorid bug

 

Successful hunters

Golden-flumed Sugar Ants (Camponotus suffusus) are a very elegant larger ant. I was pleased to find a few of these graceful ladies on a Golden Wattle.

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant (Camponotus suffusus)

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant

I was then surprised to find one of them having been caught by a spider. When I looked at the screen on the back of the camera, I was even more surprised to see four tiny flies on the ant. There seem to be two species and some had quite distended abdomens. I wonder if they were sucking something from the fly or laying eggs into her.

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant, spider and flies

An unfortunate ant.

By night, there are a few Wolf Spiders around (family Lycosidae), easily found with my head torch by the beautiful emerald green light reflecting from their eyes. One particular individual seems very lucky. On one night, a hapless wasp was in the mandibles of this successful spider.

Wolf Spider with wasp

Wolf Spider with wasp

The next night, it was a leaf beetle’s turn to be converted to spider flesh. I was curious that this spider was on some grasses as they usually hunt on the ground.

Wolf Spider with beetle

Wolf Spider with beetle

Wolf Spider with beetle

Front view

Elsewhere, a small Huntsman was waiting patiently on a Grey Box leaf for some food to come along.

Huntsman?

Huntsman

Huntsman?

An impressive array of eyes!

Still plenty of ladybirds around too!

Ladybird

Ladybird on Shiny Everlasting flower at night.

Lots of flies sleeping on leaves at present too. I think this might be a Lauxaniid fly.

Lauxaniid fly?

Fly sleeping on Hardenbergia leaf.

 

 

Sweet Bursaria bursts forth

Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa) is one of our striking local shrubs. The name Bursaria comes from the purse (bursa) shape of the seed pods. At this time of year, their sprays of abundant white blossoms are a favourite for many insects.

We have quite a few tiny flies, about 3mm long, on both Everlastings and Sweet Bursaria at the moment. Someone on Flickr informed me that the they are genus Phasia, which are members of the large Tachinid family of flies.

Phasia? fly on Sweet Bursaria_19-11-18_1

Phasia on Sweet Bursaria

Tachinid eggs are usually laid in caterpillars of moths and butterflies and in most cases will kill their hosts.

Fly - Phasia sp?

Cross-checking the taste sensors in the feet?

The large numbers of hoverflies continues at this point and they are turning their attention to the Bursaria flowers.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly on Sweet Bursaria flower buds

Hoverfly

Hoverfly – grooming or tasting?

Hoverfly

Being able to rotate one’s head is great for getting to those hard-to-reach spots

Ladybirds are also still present in large numbers and are also visiting the Sweet Bursaria. This pair seem determined to continue the abundance of their species!

Ladybirds

Ladybirds on Sweet Bursaria

Our Shiny Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum) are also still flowering and attracting pollinators.

Fly

Fly on Shiny Everlasting.