Category Archives: Native grasses

Life on the grass stems

After a good year’s flowering and seeding, there is an abundance of old grass stems in our yard at Strangways. These stems are a surprisingly popular venue for invertebrates by night.

One grass stem provided a bed for a Halictid bee which I think was well asleep as it was very unfazed by my bright lights.

Halictid Bee on grass stem.

I also found a few bugs which look like more advanced versions of a Stenophyella nymph that I posted a little while back. These are seed eating bugs which explains their interest even though most of the grasses have already sent their seed off on the winds.

Stenophyella perhaps?

Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.

Weevil – Cryptorhynchini perhaps.

And where there are herbivores, there are also carnivores. This spider was so flat against the grass stem when I found it that I thought it was just a discolouration of the plant. Anything unusual is always worth a look.

Spider laying in wait on a grass stem.

Elsewhere, I found a species of Horned Treehopper that I’ve not seem before. Most summers I see quite a few Acacia Horned Treehoppers on our wattles, with a perfect green camouflage. These were Brown Horned Treehoppers, also on a Golden Wattle stem and to me they looked so other-worldly.

Brown Horned Treehoppers

This is how it once was …

A visit to the Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery at this time of year is a window into a landscape that is now sadly much diminished.

Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra forms an almost pure sward, waist height and swaying in the breeze of a sweltering November afternoon.

The cemetery was established in 1842, just a few short years after the first squatters arrived with their flocks, about a year after Edward Stone Parker established the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate station a few hundred metres to the east.

From here it’s a short hop to the Jumcra as it flows northwards to join the Loddon River at Newstead. Juvenile Grey Fantails were chasing insects beside the stream, a White-browed Scrub-wren collected spiders for its young as Sacred Kingfishers called from the Candlebarks overhead.

Kangaroo Grass, Franklinford and Yandoit Cemetery, 28th November 2020

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Juvenile Grey Fantail by the Jumcra at Franklinford

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White-browed Scrub-wren and spider

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

Compulsory viewing

If you are anywhere near Newstead over the next few weeks then treat yourself to coffee and a bite at Dig Cafe.

While you are there you’ll be able to enjoy the most extraordinary exhibition by regular Natural Newstead blogger and macro-photographer extraordinaire, Patrick Kavanagh.

Patrick’s exhibition, “Small World – Visions from Another Dimension”, features subjects of amazing detail all taken at his home in nearby Strangways.

Patrick writes:

‘There is another world hidden from our unaided senses. A world of strange and wonderful animals – some could be from another planet, some are insects but look like sea shells. The damage inflicted by a caterpillar on a eucalypt leaf looks like a Renaissance window. A piece of abstract art turns out to be the wing of a moth. A tiny world, on a scale of millimetres, best seen through a macrophotographer’s lens.’

“Small World – Visions from Another Dimension” will be on at Dig Café, Newstead from Wednesday December 20th until late January. Here is a taster of some of Patrick’s images.

Speedwell, Wallaby Grass and some of their fans

It’s delightful to see some of the beautiful local plants in flower at present. Digger’s Speedwell Veronica perfoliata and Red-anther Wallaby Grass  Rytidosperma pallidum are not only pleasing to the human eye, they have quite a few invertebrate fans as well. The Wallaby Grass can perhaps only really be appreciated with a bit of magnification.

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass (Joycea pallida)

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass up close

By night, the Wallaby Grass provided a comfy bed for a native bee and a beetle.

A native bee sleeps on a Wallaby Grass flower

Native Bee Lassioglossum sp. perhaps sleeping on Red-Anther Wallaby Grass

Clerid Beetle (Eleale genus) on Red-anther Wallaby Grass

A beetle also rests on a Wallaby Grass flower

I was surprised when I had a close look at the Digger’s Speedwell to see how many Aphids were sucking sap from the flower stalks.

Aphid

Aphids on Digger’s Speedwell

Hoverfly

A hoverfly finds the flower already crowded

Native bees are really enjoying the abundance of the Speedwell flowers. I think these are Small Metallic-banded Bees Lassioglossum sp. but I’m happy to be corrected. Myriad Sweat Bees managed to avoid my camera, alas.

Bees on Diggers Speedwell

Bees on Digger’s Speedwell

Bee on Diggers Speedwell

An abundance of pollen.

On a Long-leafed Box sucker, I also found this tiny cricket nymph.

Katydid nymph up close

Cricket nymph

PS: For those who enjoy photographs of tiny things, I will have an exhibition of macro photos “Small World” at Newstead’s Dig Cafe from December 19th. Hope you’ll be able to come along!

No birds today …

… but there was 10 mm of beautiful, drenching rain!

You could hear the bush sighing with relief.

A brief visit to Demo Track found Red-anther Wallaby-grass Rytidosperma pallidum in great shape. Also known as Silver-top Wallaby-grass and revised from Chionochloa pallida and Joycea pallida this local native species is great habitat for Painted Button-quail.

Red-anther Wallaby-grass, Demo Track, 15th November 2017

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Joycea pallida peaking

by Patrick Kavanagh

One of the joys of decent rainfall at our place at Strangways is the profusion of flowering of grasses. Especially striking are the Red-anther Wallaby Grass Joycea pallida flowers. Lovely to look at with the naked eye, they are a real treat through a macro lens. Quite a popular hunting lair for spiders too it seems.

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Red-anther Wallaby Grass, Strangways, November 2016

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III … with what looks like an orb-weaver?

Red-anther Wallaby Grass

by Patrick Kavanagh

The flowering of the Red-anther Wallaby Grass Rytidosperma pallidum is always a beautiful sight to behold. I’ve always found the delicate red anthers dangling below the flowers a very pleasing sight. Until I discovered the power of high-powered macro photography, I didn’t realise just how beautiful these flowers are. When I took these photos today, I discovered a world of delicate purple and white feather like plumes surrounding the red anthers.

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Red-anther Wallaby Grass, Strangways, 4th November 2014.

red anther wallaby grass 1x stack

The prominent orange-red anthers are visible, even at a distance.

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The flowering of native grasses is a sure sign that Spring is rapidly fading.