Author Archives: Patrick Kavanagh

A summer of abundances

After our wet 2022, this summer has brought many great flourishings in the invertebrate world. Lots of species at our place at Strangways have made appearances in extraordinary numbers.

Leaf beetles have been particularly plentiful with specimens with quite a few different colourings putting on a show.

Leaf beetle on Grey Box leaf.

I’d assumed that beetles of different colours are different species. An encounter with a seemingly mismatched pair has me wondering if this is the case or whether when the desire hits, beetles are a little indiscriminate in their romantic expressions.

Variety in a species or a bit of cross-species dalliance?

Recently I posted about a Poecilometis Shield Bug nymph devouring a Sawfly larva. When collecting some seed from a Hedge Wattle in our front yard, I was pleased to find a whole clutch of these little ones freshly hatched from their eggs.

Shield bugs hatching

Poecilometis Shield Bug just hatched, all of 3 mm long.

Elswhere I found other Shield Bug egg clutches. Apparently, the mother bug can use a pigment to protect her eggs from the sun, which is possibly why the ones in the shady Hedge Wattle were white and those on a more exposed Grey Box leaf were black.

Shield Bug eggs on a more exposed site.

Also in the bug world, a tiny Harlequin bug on a Grey Box leaf – just recently hatched I suspect.

Harlequin Bug.

And nearby a tiny weevil.

A walk down the lane meant another encounter with an unusual proliferation. Quite large numbers of Stomorhina flies were hovering about 1-2 metres above the road. I’ve encountered them on flowers before in ones or twos, but never so many in flight. I wonder if it is part of a mating ritual. They made a high pitched buzz, a bit like a mosquito.

Stomorhina fly.

Gaining height.

Closer to home, another strange, bee-like buzz drew my attention to the parsley on our verandah. The insect looked very like a bee, but was in fact a bee-mimicking hoverfly species, Eristalis tenax or a Common Drone Fly. The fly only has two wings to a bee’s four and doesn’t have leg bags to collect pollen. Males of this species apparently can be very territorial and keep other species of insect out of their patch. I’m not sure how the fly expresses aggression or manages to fight with other insects.

Common Drone Fly, not a bee!

Lots of spiders as well, including the favourite for this time of year, the Jewel Spider.

Jewel Spider

I was also very pleased to get some photos of a Net-casting Spider (Deinopis sp.). As the name implies, these spiders cast a small net of silk to catch their prey.According to Whyte and Anderson’s Field Guide to Australian spiders, their wide angled posterior eyes are 2000 times more sensitive than human or Jumping Spider eyes. The retinae of these eyes are digested each day as light grows each morning and reconstituted as evening falls. What is nearly as baffling to me is how scientists worked this out!

A Net Casting Spider

Net casting spiders are also called Ogre-faced spiders.

More life, love and death on the leaves

As summer progresses, there is usually an increase in the numbers of invertebrates that chew, suck and hunt on the leaves at our place in Strangways. An abundance of new leaves on some low Grey Box trees are a favourite patch and accessible for the macrophotographer.

I was surprised to find a pair of moths mating on one leaf.

Mating moths.

Nearby were a group of Sawfly Larvae communally munching on a leaf.

The family meal for Sawfly larvae.

Sawflies are like wasps but without the slender waist common to wasps. They take their name from the saw-like ovipositor that the adult uses to insert eggs into leaves.

Working quickly!

By night, nearby on the same tree I found a Shield Bug (Poecilometis sp?) – I think it was a nymph rather than an adult.

Shield Bug nymph.

Possibly a view you don’t want to see if you are a small invertebrate.

Later I found the same bug literally sucking the life out of some of the Sawfly larvae.

The first of several to be converted to Shield Bug.

Plenty of leaf beetles are also munching on new leaves at present.

A Leaf Beetle ready to take off.

Other hunters were also easy to find. On a Golden Wattle, a small spider about 15mm across turned out to be a tiny Huntsman, presumable very young.

One very young Huntsman.

In summer, I also often find Acacia Horned Treehoppers. I was surprised to find quite a little crew of nymphs on another Golden Wattle.

Acacia Horned Treehopper nymphs.

Also on a Golden Wattle, a tiny Lacebug (Nethersia sp). Lacebugs as adults suck sap from leaves. Many species spend their whole life cycle on a single plant, or even the same part of a plant.

A Lacebug (Nethersia sp) on Golden Wattle buds.

Take a leaf

With new growth on eucalypts and wattles at our place at Strangways, it’s an interesting time to inspect the foliage for invertebrate life. On a tiny new leaf on a Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), I found a couple of katydid nymphs. The younger they are, the more they have a deep maroon colouring. As they go through each shedding, this colour gets taken over by light green. It seems to me this matches the changing colour of the eucalypt leaves as they grow. Each nymph seemed to be settled on a single leaf, staying put over several days.

Katydid nymph

Not far from the little Katydids was a potential threat to their lives – a Hamilton’s Orb Weaver spider (Araneus hamiltoni). I think the small abdomen and large palps suggest it’s a male.

Hamilton’s Orb Weaver

The view you don’t want if you’re a tiny insect!

Also on the same little bit of Grey Box regrowth was a tiny wasp with a red head and white flanks on its black abdomen. Checking the very useful Brisbane Insects web site, I think this is a Braconid wasp of genus Callibracon. Braconid wasps parasitise caterpillars and other larvae and their unfortunate host may well survive as the wasp larva devours it from inside before making a cocoon out of the host’s corpse. Wasps of this genus seem to prefer the larvae of wood boring beetles.

Braconid wasp.

And speaking of beetles, a nearby Grey Box was food for a leaf beetle that was about 15mm long – a bit larger than most that I see.

Leaf Beetle

And on an immediately adjacent Golden Wattle, an ant tended a tiny Leafhopper nymph. Ants will often tend Leafhoppers and are rewarded with a sweet secretion. This little nymph didn’t appear to have any of this honeydew, but maybe the ant considers the time a good investment.

Ant tending a Leafhopper nymph.

Leaving the leaves for a moment, I was delighted to find something I’d never seen out of it’s nymphal hiding place – a Spittlebug or Froghopper Bathylus albicincta. The nymphs of these fascinating bugs suck the sap of plants that they live on and turn their copious urine into froth by secreting carbon dioxide into it to form bubbles as a shield. The result looks like a gob of spit. An article in the New York Times a few years ago described how researchers worked out how the nymphs breathe inside their own urine, using their abdomens as tiny snorkels. Well worth a read! Anyway, I was very excited to find an adult out in the open, climbing up a Red-Anther Wallaby Grass flower stem.

A Froghopper or Spittlebug, Bathylus albicincta

On a final note and again not about leaves, we have noticed the most incredible abundance of Onion Orchids (Microtis sp) in our bush this year. So much is different this year, but we’ve really been struck by how many patches there are nestled amongst the tussock grasses.

One of many Onion Orchids flowering this year.

The Riders

I’ve been keeping an eye on a pair of Australasian Grebes (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) that have built a nest raft on a little dam in the Muckleford Forest, waiting for the moment they start taking their chicks for rides out onto the water. Sure enough, this week they had their three tiny chicks out and about.

It was quite impressive to see how well hidden the three chicks were under the wings of the parent that was carrying them.

One of the young about to join its siblings under the wings

While one parent had the chicks snuggled under wings, the other was out foraging and bringing food back to the little clutch.

Some food for the little ones.

The young would stay well hidden except when food arrived or when time came for the parents to swap roles. It was great to watch the smooth changeover – a few chattering calls and the young ones slide off the back of one parent and climbed up onto the other.

Climbing into position.
Getting excited about some food.
And into the water
On still waters

Newstead Landcare presentation cancelled due to floods

Alas, with the very high risk of flooding around Newstead and Central Victoria, we’ve decided to cancel our presentation by Barry Golding tomorrow night. Barry will do the presentation for us early in 2023. We will still have our very brief AGM via Zoom.

Topic: Newstead Landcare AGM 2022
Time: Oct 13, 2022 07:30 PM Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/71311755637?pwd=kh6Uf5ffjZeYEG6qFfKGVRPB9uEkQu.1

Meeting ID: 713 1175 5637
Passcode: 7SHtQ8

Our land at contact

The arrival of Europeans in Australia produced profound changes across the continent. It can be hard to know exactly what the landscape looked like before this dramatic upheaval. The documents left by the earliest intruders can give us a few clues. Professor Barry Golding of Federation University has combed through historical records to put together a picture of how the land around Newstead and its environs may have looked prior to contact. From the extensive permanent ponds on the Loddon containing literally tonnes of Murray Cod to the vast meadows of Yam Daisies (Myrnong), some of the descriptions Barry has found give us a glimpse of the extraordinary richness of our neck of the woods. Barry will be presenting some of his findings at Newstead Landcare Group’s AGM on Thursday October 13th. The presentation will start at 7.30pm at Newstead Community Centre. A very brief AGM will follow. All are welcome to attend, gold coin donations appreciated.

Yam Daisy (Myrnong – Microseris lanceolata) by Frances Cincotta
Ancient River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) by Barry Golding

Presenting on photographing invertebrates at FOBIF AGM

I was pleased and honoured to be invited to be a presenter at the Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests AGM, to be held on Monday, Sept 12th. I will be talking about how photography can be a tool for developing a more intimate knowledge of and closer relationship with our beautiful woodlands and the many lifeforms that are part of this complex and threatened ecosystem. As the topic is potentially very wide, I’ve decided to focus on how photographing tiny invertebrates has helped me discover some of the wonders of our local bush. The AGM will start at 7.30 pm at the Ray Bradfield Rooms in Castlemaine.

Red Velvet Mite – one of the tiny beings featured at the FOBIF AGM

As will the secret life of the Ant Lion
A Sundew – a deadly hunter of tiny insects
Why is this little cutie called a sweat bee?
What does this strange creature feed on and how?

The wide waters of Joyce’s Creek

With some good rains, soaked soil our waterways are flowing beautifully. Cairn Curran Reservoir has come up significantly. A kayak trip upstream from the bridge on the Pyrenees Highway on the weekend was pure delight.

Looking upstream from the west bank south of the Pyrenees Highway.
Heading upstream

A group of Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicullatus) were hanging around the lower reaches near the bridge. The can be few sights as magnificent as watching these birds in flight.

Australian Pelican

On a branch of one of the old, dead River Red Gums that line the main channel of Joyce’s Creek (now well under water) a Royal Spoonbill (Platalea regia) rested.

Royal Spoonbill

Ducks were abundant further up the creek, especially Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa) and Grey Teals (Anas castanea).

Grey Teal
Grey Teal in flight
Pacific Black Ducks

Long-billed Corellas were also around in big numbers, some of them checking out hollows in the dead trunks and branches.

Long-billed Corella

There were a few Whistling Kites (Haliastur sphenurus) around, patrolling for fish or whatever else they could snatch off the water.

Whistling Kite about to land on an old tree.

Below the Kite’s roosting spot, Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena) rested between sorties to hawk small insects above the water.

Welcome Swallows

A few kilometres upstream from the bridge, there was a great abundance of Straw-necked Ibis (Threskornis spinicollis) and a few Black Swans (Cygnus atratus)

Quite a few Straw-necked Ibis and a Galah
Ibis take off!
and a landing Galah

Small – some winter invertebrates

Winter is not a great time for photographing invertebrates, partly as they are fewer in number, but also because those that are around are often really small. I don’t know why the colder weather seems to favour the smaller.

Golden Wattles (Acacia pycnantha) are still bursting into flower, providing pollen for a multitude of tiny beetles.

Golden Wattle and pollinating beetles.

One species I was surprised to find at this time of year was the Acacia Horned Treehopper (Sextius virescens). I’ve occasionally seen them at this time of year, but they are usually something I find in spring and summer. They have wonderful camouflage which they rely on totally for their safety, moving only very slowly around to the other side of the branch to escape my interest.

Acacia Horned Treehopper

ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT – SPIDER PHOTOS AHEAD!

Looking for anything that looks a little odd is a very effective way to find some interesting invertebrates. A curious looking little lump on a strip of bark turned out to be a tiny Twig Spider (Poltys sp.), all of 2 mm long.

Twig Spider

By night, the Golden Wattles continue to support many little creatures. A few tiny Psyllid Bugs were perched on the edge of some of the new leaves.

Psyllid Bug.

Small nocturnal Notoncus ants are often out on a winter’s night, gleaning a sweet secretion from the gland on Golden Wattle leaves.

Notoncus ant checking out a wattle leaf gland.

Quite a few Fungus Gnats and midges sleep on our bushes at night and I found a beautiful green midge sleeping on a flower bud.

Midge on Golden Wattle flower.

Where there are animals, there are predators and one of the most common finds at night at the moment are tiny spiders. Lots of them. Some of the biggest are green Crab Spiders (Cetratus rubropunctatus) at about 10mm long.

Crab Spider (Cetratus rubropunctatus)
Up close

But by far, the bulk are less than 2mm long.

One of many tiny spiders active by night.

And finally, a fungus fruiting body just because there’s a lot of them and they’re beautiful.

A plethora of fungi and a gratuitous night sky view

With our wet, cool winter we still have an abundance of fungal fruiting bodies popping out of the earth and trees to spread their spores far and wide. I am unsure of the precise identification of these little beauties and welcome any clarifications.

Many of the photos show tiny invertebrates feeding on the fruiting bodies – tiny creatures that I had no idea where there until I processed the shots.

Funnel Cup fungi with a Springtail on top

Springtails have six legs, but are not insects and have internal mouth parts. They live in the leaf litter and eat decaying plant matter and microbes. They also eat fungal hyphae (the strands that make up the bulk of the fungus) and spores.

The delicate gills and rich colours of the fungi look stunning against the mosses.

Galerina sp. – careful inspection of the one on the right reveals another springtail.

Galerina sp. with Fungus Gnat.

Fungus Gnats are tiny flies that are very important pollinators and spreaders of fungal spores. The adult forms can be seen flying around in large groups in still air even in winter as they meet up to mate.

At first, I thought this was a Puff Ball Fungus, but on closer inspection, I think it has a stem which has yet to rise above the moss.
Mycena sp in a niche in an old Grey Box stump. Fungi are important in the recycling of wood.
Galerina sp. and Scented Sundews.
Lichenomphalia sp. – there are so many of these beautiful tiny fruiting bodies on the woodland floor at the moment.

And – quite off topic – a gratuitous night sky shot that I took the other night from the old rail crossing now submerged in Cairn Curran at Joyce’s Creek.

The centre of the Milky Way rises over Cairn Curran. The dark patches are cold clouds of dust and gas from which future stars will form. The bright patches are clouds of gas ionised by the clusters of newborn stars that they surround.