Author Archives: Patrick Kavanagh

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

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.

 

Groundsel discoveries

We have good numbers of Slender Groundsels (Senecio phelleus) flowering in our bush at the moment. These delicate daisies have a rosette of dark green leaves with purple undersides and tall stems, also with a few green/purple leaves, and tiny daisy flowers on top. Flowers that look like they should open more, but never do.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Slender Groundsel

Many plants are both currently flowering and setting seed. They are quite beautiful when setting seed.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Slender Groundsel setting seed.

Slender Groundsel (Senecio phelleus)

Groundsel seed and a little dew

I’ve often been curious about what pollinates these tiny daisies and this season have seen some of the many hoverflies visiting them, but have not been able to photograph them in this act. Whilst I was looking at one plant, I thought an ant might be doing some pollen collection, but she had other things on her mind.

Ant "milking" aphid

Ant munching on an aphid

To my surprise she was busy eating an aphid. As I looked at other flowers on the same plant, I discovered that she had quite a smorgasboard of them!

Aphids on Groundsel

Aphids on Slender Groundsel

Most of them were black, but for one tiny red one. Was this a different species or just a variant of the same?

Aphids on Groundsel

Standing out from the crowd.

I also found on the same plant a tiny gnat, who didn’t seem interested in the aphids, but I couldn’t tell if it wanted to get pollen or stick a proboscis into the plant.

Gnat on groundsel

Gnat on Slender Groundsel

It’s also a big time of year for Bluebells – Wahlenbergia sp. Also a hit with the hoverflies it seems.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly taking the offerings of a Bluebell

Hoverfly

And off to the next one!

The abundance of everlastings and hoverflies

When we first came to our place at Strangways 25 years ago, there was one Shiny Everlasting (Xerochrysum viscosum) on our block. We sowed some seeds from Sandon Forest into a fenced area many years ago and now our bush is full of these wonderful plants.

Shiny Everlasting

Shiny Everlasting

Shiny Everlastings

Spreading through the bush

These daisies not only bring colour to the bush, but support a remarkable number of invertebrates.

Beetle

A tiny beetle munches on an Everlasting

They are home not only to the vegetarians, but also to those that prey on others. I was delighted to find this little lacewing larva, with its magnificent disguise of plant debris fixed to its back as it strolled across a flower.

Lacewing larva

Lacewing larva

Having expressed concern about the low numbers of invertebrates in recent seasons, I am pleased to report an extraordinary boom in the numbers of hoverflies in our bush at present. I don’t recall having seen quite so many. There are thousands of them, feeding not only on the Shiny Everlastings, but also on Groundsels and Bluebells. There seem to be a number of species of them as well.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Hoverfly #2

There are also lots of ladybirds visiting the Everlastings too, again in numbers that seem unusual as far as my memory goes.

Ladybird

Ladybird

There have also been quite a few small flies, about 3mm long with large eyes, dropping in for some pollen from the profusion of flowers.

Small fly on Everlasting - Tachinidae; Phasia sp.

Fly

And a bit of a mystery… I found one flower with a cluster of dead native bees (Lassioglossum perhaps?)with their heads stuck deep into the flower. On and adjacent flower, there were a couple more dead bees similarly situated. It’s as if they’ve been lured to the flower to meet their end. Did they come across the larvae of a wasp from eggs laid in the flower as I seemed to photograph a while back? Or is it an insect-eating fungus like the remarkable one recently reported on in The Age?

Dead bees on everlasting

A deadly feast

And apart from their support for many creatures, the Shiny Everlastings of course have a striking beauty all their own. Even as they start to set seed, a close look reveals remarkable beauty.

Shiny Everlasting seeds (Xerochrysum viscosum)

Everlasting seeds

Shiny Everlasting seeds (Xerochrysum viscosum)

And again.