Author Archives: Patrick Kavanagh

Treading a fine line in the time of tiny spiders

by Patrick Kavanagh

A nocturnal venture into the bush at our place at Strangways at the moment means encountering a myriad of tiny spiders. Some, like this Crab Spider (about 10mm long including legs) pretend to be a bit of plant matter hanging in the web as soon as my light hits them.

Crab Spider

Crab Spider

This slightly larger green spider was too intent on wrapping up its prey to be bothered by the paparazzi.

Crab Spider perhaps?

Many of the spiders in the Golden Wattles at the moment, are however much smaller – a millimetre or even less in length.

Tiny spider and Golden Wattle flower bud

A tiny spider with Golden Wattle flower bud

What did surprise me recently though, was the number of tiny midges that I at first assumed were trapped in the tiny webs of these arachnids. But as soon as I got too close, they would fly off. It seemed that they were using the webs at least for perching. But is there some other purpose? I’d appreciate any information about why they might choose to linger on the trap of a predator. I think they are midges rather than mosquitoes as their back legs are down. And I think the feathery antennae on this one mean it’s a male.

Midge on spiders web

Midge?

By day, there have been quite a few small black wasps on both Golden Wattle and Cassinia arcuata bushes and there have been a few Eucalyptus Weevils about.

Wasp

Wasp on Golden Wattle

Eucalyptus Weevil

Eucalyptus Weevil

Another mystery for us was a strange looking multi-legged animal in the tub in our laundry. We fished it out with a Grey Box leaf and having no idea what would be an appropriate habitat, took some pics of it on the leaf before letting it go in the garden. Typing “bug with 15 pairs of legs” into Google quickly identified it as a House Centipede. It seems it would have been more accurate to photograph it in the house – their preferred habitat in which they hunt other invertebrates. There are native species, but I think this is the introduced one, Scutigera coleoptrata.  We don’t know if it was living at our place or came back with our washing from a recent camping trip in NSW. A striking photographic subject even if it shouldn’t be here.

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House Centipede

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House Centipede

Night life in the foliage

It seems that there is always so much to discover with some magnification at night in Box woodlands. With a bright headlight and some reading glasses I found what seemed to be very strange looking ant, with red blotches of various sizes. The macro lens revealed a very serious infestation of mites affecting this poor lady. She seemed to be feeding normally, taking something from the little gland at the base of the leaves of Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), but was a little slow. I think the ant might be a Golden-flumed Sugar Ant, but would be happy to have a more certain identification.

Ant (Polyrhachis sp) with mite infestation

Ant with mite infestation

Ant (Polyrhachis sp) with mite infestation

Ant with mite infestation feeding on wattle leaf gland

On the same wattle, I found a tiny bug, barely visible with just glasses. I’ve met this one before and the folk at bowerbird.org.au identified it as a Tingid Lacebug (Nethersia sp.)

Tingid Lacebug - Nethersia Sp.

Tingid Lacebug (Nethersia sp.)

Another small inhabitant of the bush that I’d met before was a Sutural Belid Weevil (Rhinotria suturalis). They make a great macrophotography subject as they tend to stay very still. This one was on a Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)

Sutural Belid Weevil (Rhinotia sp)

Sutural Belid Weevil

Sutural Belid Weevil (Rhinotia sp)

Sutural Belid Weevil up close

Climbing around on a Long-leafed Box sapling was this tiny translucent bug. I’m not sure of its identity, but it looks a bit like a Mirid Bug nymph to me.

Bug on Long-leafed Box

Unidentified bug

Bug on Long-leafed Box

Unidentified bug

 

A little late for nymphs?

Although the number of arthropods visible around our place at Strangways has dropped significantly as the cooler weather moves in, there are still some insects around by both night and day. And a profusion of spiders. I have been quite surprised to encounter a few nymphs in the last week. It seems a little late in the season for young ones.

By day I have encountered a lone Coreid bug (Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug) nymph on a Grey Box sapling, as well as an adult Acacia Horned Treehopper on Silver Wattle with retinue of attendant ants. The ants declined to be included in the photo shoot.

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Coreid Bug nymph

Acacia Horned Treehopper (Sextius virescens)

Acacia Horned Treehopper, pretending to be a thorn.

Slender Bee Flies are still taking advantage of the afternoon sun and the second-flowering Shiny Everlastings.

Slender Bee Fly

Slender Bee Fly

By night I found a sole Treehopper nymph, again with attending ants. I suspect this one will moult into another Acacia Horned Treehopper.

Treehopper nymph

Treehopper nymph on Golden Wattle

Also by night I found what I think is a Lauxaniid fly sheltering on a Long-leafed Box leaf and a wasp hiding in Silver Wattle foliage for the evening.

Lauxaniid fly?

Lauxaniid Fly?

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Wasp on Silver Wattle

Amongst the many spiders hunting in the bush at present, I found this small gem under a Grey Box leaf. It’s only small, but the pattern of the eyes, the splayed out legs and lack of web make me wonder if it’s a very young Huntsman.

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Spider on Grey Box

Blue bees, blue flowers, Autumnal amour and old man fly

A very distinct kind of buzz has been calling my attention to the rosemary bush in our front yard. All summer it has been visited by the occasional Blue-banded Bee Amegilla cingulata, but at present there are usually half a dozen of them feeding on the flowers. I’ve read that these bees use a high frequency buzz of their wings to shake pollen from flowers and this seems consistent with their distinctive pitch. Apparently these ground nesting bees also have a particular liking for blue flowers, which explains why I’ve most often seen them on lavender and rosemary as well as our Flax Lilies. Until now, I’ve found them quite wary, but in the last few days they seem very tolerant.
Blue-banded Bee

Blue-banded Bee I

Blue-banded Bee

Blue-banded Bee II

I’ve also been surprised to find quite a bit of Autumnal mating activity amongst the Tricolor Soldier Beetles Chauliognathus tricolor that are abundant in the yard now and wonder if that is unusual.

Tricolor Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus tricolor)

Tricolor Soldier Beetle

We’ve also had a modest second flowering of the fabulous Shiny Everlastings and they seem to be attracting large numbers of small and slow-moving mosquito-like insects. Thanks to the generosity of Flickr contributors, I now know that these are Slender Bee Flies of the genus Geron. These are important pollinators and as adults rely on nectar and pollen for nutrition. Their larvae however live on the eggs and larvae of other insect species and the female Bee Fly will lay her eggs in the nests of the hosts. And I thought it sweet that these delicate and often gracefully hovering “mosquitoes” were leaving me alone. The genus name apparently derives from the Greek word for old man due to their hunched appearance.

Slender Bee Fly

Slender Bee Fly I

Slender Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

Slender Bee Fly II

Of ants and ant lions

by Patrick Kavanagh

I well remember the experience of revelation when the copy of “The How and Why Wonder Book of Insects” that I’d received as a hand-me-down explained the mysterious little cones, perfectly formed with grainy sides, in the dirt around our yard and in the bush. They were the traps of Ant Lion larvae. The book described how an ant would slide into the trap and be eaten by the larva below. I was not beyond guiding an ant to such a fate and watching with fascination as the Ant Lion concealed in dirt at the bottom of the pit would flick dirt on the ant to help it slide into its pincers. I gently blew away the dirt to see the strange animal that is an Ant Lion larva. In 2014, I broke my own rules of not disturbing my insect subjects by again exposing one of these larvae for some photos. But until a last week, I’d never had a chance to photograph an adult Ant Lion. They are nocturnal and shy and I’d only seen one once. Until we found this one struggling in one of our dogs’ water bowls at night. It sat quietly on the leaf that we extracted it with, long enough for a few photos before it flew off.

Ant Lion traps, Strangways, 19th March 2017

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Ant Lion

Adult Ant Lion aka Lacewing

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On the other side of the predatory coin, I also recently enjoyed some time with some friendly Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus. The reading I’ve done on this species suggests that they are very aggressive, but this little crew were very happy for me to lie in the dirt close to an outlet of their nest and snap away. I was also interested to read that they can also engage in ritual fights with meat ants from other nests and that they are often eaten by our woodland bird species. A few of these ants seemed to be removing small dead insects from the nest, which I thought might be young that had died.

Meat Ant

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Moulting season

by Patrick Kavanagh

I was intrigued to find one of the few remaining Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug Amorbus sp. nymphs having just gone through a moult to the next instar. I’ve seen so many of these this year and lots of their withered, vacated exoskeletons, but this is the first time I’d seen the soft-skinned occupant leave the old skin behind. I was struck by the utterly different colour of the fresh skin to either what had gone before and to what it would look like when set. The insect also seemed only able to hang down as its legs had no strength in compression. I was pleased to find another specimen nearby to show what the next instar would look like.

Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug, Strangways, 3rd March 2017

Tip-wilter bug moulting

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I also found one last Acacia Horned Treehopper and noted that it seems to have none of the white honeydew secretion that I’d seen on others of this species and as a result, no protective retinue of ants.

Acacia Horned Treehopper

There still seem to be a few Myllocerus weevils about. When I’ve looked up information about this species, as well as many others, much is related to our local invertebrates being “pests in eucalypt plantations”. And here they are co-existing in our bush and in no way a pest, presumably because the diversity of our bush provides a balance of predators which the monocultures of plantations lack.

Myllocerus Weevil

Reflecting on a summer

by Patrick Kavanagh

As summer has drawn towards its end, the number of invertebrates in our bush at Strangways has been dwindling. But there are still some willing sitters for the macrophotographer’s lens. After reaching considerable numbers early in February, there are now only a few Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bugs Amorbus sp. around, including this nymph, which was not far from adult size. The bush has many webs of Jewel Spiders Austracantha minax and some of these might not be happy about it, but have offered a pretty detailed view of their spinnerets, palps and fangs. The gaudy caterpillar of a Tussock Moth Acyphas sp. does not give hints of the more subdued presentation of the adult moth to come. The tussocks of hair from which it takes its name are clear though, as are the two glands at the back that exude a secretion to protect from ants.

Reliable to find at this time are the Muscle Man Tree Ants Podomyrma adelaidae, so named as they live in trees and have well-developed leg muscles for all the vertical work they do. This crew lives in a branch of Long-leafed Box and there always seem a couple on guard duty at the entrance of the nest. To me they are sweet-looking ants and the creamy dots on either side of their abdomens complement their brown skins beautifully.

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Eucalypt Tip-wilter bug, Strangways, 25th February 2017

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Tussock Moth caterpillar, Strangways, 26th February 2017

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Jewell Spider

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Muscleman Tree-Ant

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