Category Archives: Invertebrates

Undaunted by winter’s cold

The middle of winter is not a great time for invertebrate macrophotography. Dependent on the environment for body heat regulation, these tiny animals are mostly in some form of dormancy. But not all, and I am amazed at how many very tiny spiders, flies and ants seem to navigate the frosty conditions of a Newstead winter.

Last night, I was impressed to find a number of small ants seeking out food on the wattles at our place at Strangways. One species were small black ants, about 5mm long. I think they are a species of the genus Notoncus, but I’m very happy to be corrected. When I got to look at this photo on my computer, I was amazed to see what looks like a tiny brown mite on the ant’s abdomen. I find the size of some of these mites mind bogglingly small.

Notoncus sp.

Notoncus worker on Golden Wattle, with mite

As is often the case, these ladies were feeding from the little gland in the bend of the wattle leaf stem.

Notoncus sp

Feeding at Golden Wattle gland.

Another species of the same genus is one that I often see at night – Notoncus hickmani (I’m more confident about this as the friendly people at bowerbird.org.au identified it for me last year). Having done a bit of research on the web about this genus, I have found out that not much is known about their biology. These workers also look about 5mm long to me.

Notoncus hickmani

Notoncus hickmani on Silver Wattle #1

Notoncus hickmani

N. hickmani #2

About twice the size of the Notoncus ants was another species, black and quite graceful with ornate looking spines at the back of the thorax. I think this ant is a Campomyrma species. This is a sub-genus of Polyrhachis. Again, I’d like to be able to say something useful or interesting about these ants, but there seems very little information about them on the web. Given that all these ants are pretty common, it says a lot about what we don’t know about these incredibly important insects.

Polyrhachis-Campomyrma_19-07-16_3

Campomyrma sp?

 

 

 

Macrophotography and invertebrates at Castlemaine Field Naturalists

Praying Mantis nymph

Praying Mantis

I am very excited to have been asked to do a presentation on macrophotography and invertebrates for the Castlemaine Field Naturalists Club this Friday, July 12th. I’ll be talking about the challenges of photographing small inverterbrates in our bush and about some of the things I’ve discovered about our local insects and arachnids through taking photos of them.

The meeting starts at 7.30pm at the Uniting Church hall in Lyttleton St, Castlemaine.

Myrmecia pyriformis

Myrmecia pyriformis

Hunters on the ground and a Cup Moth comes to a sticky end

Walking around the bush at night with a headlight reveals myriad tiny emerald coloured lights shining back at oneself. On close inspection, these beautiful jewels are the eyes of myriad ground-dwelling spiders.

One that I found recently had me scratching my head.

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

Who am I?

I have the excellent “Field Guide to Spiders of Australia” by Robert Whyte and Greg Andersons (CSIRO publishing), but there are so many spiders in the book that it was a bit challenging to find the right one. I noted the interesting pattern of eyes and found a match in the eye patterns in Jenny Shields “Spiders of Bendigo” (Bendigo Field Naturalists Club).

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

The distribution of eight eyes tells the story

The two forward-curved rows of eyes are characteristic of the Ant-eating Spiders – Zodariidae. Going back to the big book, I came to the conclusion that this one is a species of Habronestes. As the common name implies, they feed on ants. They look ant-like, make movements like ants and some species even secrete pheromones to smell like ants. I didn’t get to see this one catch and ants, but I think my light was cramping its style.

Ant-eating Spider - Habronestes sp?

Ant-eating Spider – Habronestes sp.

My lights were quite helpful for another subject. Wolf Spiders are the ones most likely to have those emerald shining eyes. Their eyes have a reflective layer which makes them brightly reflect torchlight. I found this one emerging from its burrow in amongst some thin leaf litter.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

Wolf Spider – Tasmanicosa sp.

As I was watching what it would do next, it leapt forward and snatched a small moth, possibly attracted by my headlight.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

Munching on a moth

Those big eyes help them hunt by night or day, grabbing prey with their strong legs. According to the Filed Guide, some species are large enough to catch reptiles and frogs and even Cane Toads. I was quite stunned when this one again jumped forward and grabbed a Painted Cup Moth, quickly pinning it down and injecting it with poison. One less Cup Moth to breed up.

Wolf Spider - Tasmanicosa sp.

A Painted Cup Moth in the process of becoming part of a Wolf Spider

 

Late afternoon Bee Flies, an evening ant and a moth of dread

Having not seen any Slender Bee Flies since the height of summer, there seem to be quite a few about the place again. Perching in late afternoon sunlight on the tips of a Melaleuca decussata in our yard, they provide an admirable subject for the macro lens and seem fairly comfortable with the intrusion on their afternoon contemplations.

Bee Fly (Geron sp)

Slender Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

As night fell, I was pleased to find this large and imposing lady prowling around the yard. As forbidding as the pincers on this Myrmecia pyriformis appear, she was quite sedate, but I kept my fingers at a safe distance as I held the twig she was on.

Myrmecia pyriformis

Bullant – Myrmecia pyriformis

The information on this species on Antwiki  says that they forage at night, heading off singly on Eucalyptus trees. The nest may or may not have a queen and workers are able to reproduce if there is no queen.

Myrmecia pyriformis

Up close

Myrmecia pyriformis

Impressive equipment

Quite abundant at present are the adult forms of Painted Cup Moths. I hope that this does not portend another heavy infestation of their colourful and stinging caterpillars which wreak such havoc on the Eucalyptus canopy. I have to say, the canopy at our place has recovered amazingly well from some of the past Cup Moth events and it is important to note that the species is native to the area.

Painted Cup Moth

Painted Cup Moth resting on a Grey Box leaf

Painted Cup Moth

Top view.

I assume the “Painted” moniker applies to the colourful larvae.

Cup Moth larva

Cup Moth larva – July 2014

The Cup part relates to the cup shaped cocoon, seen in the beak of a Grey Shrike-thrush in this post of Geoff’s from a while back. The larvae feed on the leaves of eucalypts, then drop to the ground, crawl up a stem and build their cup-shaped cocoon in which they transform into the adult moth.

At our place, the larvae seem to be a favourite food for ravens, with great flocks working through the canopy and then the leaf litter as the larvae drop from the trees.

 

 

A bevy of beetles

It seems to be a time of beetles at present, with most of my forays into the bush at our place turning up beetles. Well, as cooperative sitters, anyway. There also seem to be plenty of flies, including quite a few Robber Flies, but they are very coy and I don’t have any worthwhile photos from this season.

One sweet little species is about 10 mm long and golden coloured with a few black dots and a bright yellow spot at the base of the wing covers. Trawling through the internet, I found out that it is a type of case leaf beetle, a Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle, Cadmus excrementarius.

Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle

Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle

I am impressed by the way insect eyes are so deftly formed to make space for their antennae.

Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle

Cadmus excrementarius

Apparently these beetles lay their eggs within their faeces, dropping the protective faecal pellet and eggs into the leaf litter where the larvae feed on fallen Eucalypt leaves. Most leaf beetle larvae feed on living leaves on trees, so here the case beetles are different to other leaf beetles.

Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle (Cadmus excrementarius)

Mum uses her hind legs to help the large faecal/egg packet out

Cylinder Eucalyptus Leaf Beetle (Cadmus excrementarius)

A very intimate view of a pooing beetle.

Soldier Beetles are quite common at the moment and mostly working on establishing the next generation like this pair. One species – and I’m not sure if it’s this one as there are two that look similar, does not eat in adult form, relying entirely on reserves from their larval stage.

Soldier Beetles

Soldier Beetles

Also with an eye to posterity were these tiny Jewel Beetles (I think), all of about 3mm long. Like the Soldier Beetles, they weren’t going to let a fool with a camera distract them from the task at hand.

Jewel Beetles

Jewel Beetles

This one that I found by night on a Flax-lily looks the same as the female in the previous photo.

Jewel beetle

A Jewel of the night.

I also found this little cutie at night, wedged in the stems of an old Wallaby Grass flower stem. Appropriately, this one is called a Red and Blue Beetle – Dicranolaius is the genus name. Who knows what the beetle calls itself though.

Dicranolaius

Red and Blue Beetle

I’ve also found a few weevils with large projections on their heads and striking, black mouth parts. So far I haven’t been able to pin down a genus for these.

Weevil

Weevil

They look a bit like a sinister alien from the front.

Weevil

Front view.

A few moments of relief in the great arthropod drought

The late summer has been a very dispiriting season for macrophotography. My forays into the bush on our place in Strangways have yielded few results. Dispiriting not primarily for the lack of photos, but mainly because of what it says about the state of our precious woodlands.

Moths have not been hard to find, but sometimes getting close is a challenge in the daylight. Identifying them is more challenging still. This one was resting on a kale leaf in our garden patch.

moth stack 4x 2

A small moth up close

The flowering chives also provide some pollen for insects. I usually find these small Camponotus ants by night, but this lady and her co-workers were out by day.

Camponotus sp_19-03-02_6

Camponotus sp.

A delicate fly was also enjoying the flowering chives.

hoverfly

Fly

In the last day or so, I’ve found a few small Leaf Beetles on some Grey Box suckers near the house.

leaf beetle stack 2x

Leaf Beetle on Grey Box.

Leafhoppers have been few and far between, so I was pleased to find this one by night, again on a Grey Box sucker. It must have been quite relaxed in spite of the light and flash as it seemed to just enjoy grooming itself, using its tiny feet to clean the eyes.

Leafhopper_19-03-01_2

Leafhopper

Leafhopper_19-03-01_10

Up close and about to have a scratch.

A month or so ago, there were plenty of Garden Katydids, but this one munching on a Grey Box leaf is the first I’ve seen for a while.

Katydid_19-03-01_1

Katydid.

One of the biggest – and smallest – surprises came when I got to look closely at a tiny spider I found one night recently on a Golden Wattle leaf close to our house. The spider was about 8mm across, from foot to foot and at first I thought it was a tiny Jumping Spider. When I got to look closely at the photo, it turned out to be a tiny Hunstman. I assume it is one of the young of the mighty females that we find around the house. Big shoes to grow into!

Huntsman stack 2x

Hunstman in miniature

The remarkable world of wild orchids

Newstead Landcare are delighted to present a talk by Emily Noble on ‘The remarkable world of wild orchids’ at 8.00pm on Thursday 21st March at Newstead Community Centre.

As the Secretary of the Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat, Business Manager of the Ballarat Environment Network, Coordinator of the 540ha Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary in Linton for Birdlife Australia, and proud owner of a bush block south-west of Ballarat that is home to at least fifty different wild orchids, Emily has ample opportunity to pursue her interest in orchids and their interactions with the co-habitants of their environment. Trying to catch these interactions on camera provides her with many unexpected insights into their ecology, helping inform her conservation activities, and providing a source of ongoing wonder.

Come along to learn more about these remarkable plants and their fascinating relationships with their world.

All are welcome to Emily’s presentation and supper afterwards. There will be no business meeting to sit through. A gold coin donation would help us cover costs.

Some images (all by Emily) below to whet your appetite!

Mantis Greencomb Spider-orchid Caladenia tentaculata

Veined Helmet-orchid Corybas diemenicus

Golden moth orchids Diuris chryseopsis

Parsons bands orchid Eriochilus cucullatus and a pollen thief ant

Pollinating bee on Golden moth orchid Diuris chryseopsis

Large Duck-orchid Caleana major

Common hoverfly pollinating a White-fingers Orchid Caladenia catenata

Parsons bands Orchid Eriochilus cucullatus with Common Hoverfly