Category Archives: Invertebrates

The Disappearing Egg Trick

I was collecting Blue Devil seed in my garden today when nearby, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white egg approximately 10 mm diameter disappearing quickly down into a hole in the ground, like a white billiard ball into a pocket.

Now you see it…

Now you don’t!

Putting the seed aside I grabbed my camera and waited patiently until I saw the white ball reappear…. being carried by a spider!

rear end of Wolf Spider with egg sac 15 Feb 2020

The spider hung around the entrance to its burrow, holding the egg sac between its hind legs facing it towards the sun. Every time I tried to photograph this the spider retreated into its burrow. I would go away for a while and come back to find it sunning its egg sac once again. This went on from midday until 6pm!

Front of Wolf Spider at burrow entrance carrying white egg sac behind, 15 Feb 2020

From Museum Victoria website about Wolf Spiders: “Males court female through a series of leg drums and vibrations while ‘dancing’ with his forelegs. If the female is receptive she will allow him to approach. The male will then present the female with a sperm package on one of his palpal bulbs, (as spiders do not have penises) which she will store and use to fertilise her eggs. Sometime after fertilisation the female produces an egg sac by weaving a circular mat of fine silk onto which she deposits a hundred or more eggs. She then weaves silk around the eggs, draws up the sides of the mat and sews it into a silken ball. The size of this silken ball is often about the same as the spider itself. Using strong silken threads, she then attaches the egg case to the under surface of her abdomen using her spinnerets (the organs that make silk) and carries it with her, even when hunting. She incubates the eggs during the day by facing the egg case towards the sun and slowly turning it. Thirty to forty days later the eggs hatch producing up to 200 spiderlings. The spiderlings do not immediately disperse. Instead they climb up their mother’s legs and ride on her back for a few weeks, often covering her several layers deep. The spiderlings do not share any of the prey that the mother catches, and if they fall off they are not rescued. When they are ready to fend for themselves they disperse via silk strands. This maternal care of the spiderlings is unusual in the spider world”.

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

Honeyeater visitations

Two things, neither that remarkable, but worth a note nonetheless.

First, a new visitor to the home garden – an immature White-eared Honeyeater. This species is relatively common in the local bush, more so during the cooler months, but this is the first time I can recall one in the garden. Secondly, a Blue-faced Honeyeater skulking with intent around the top bar beehive next door. Whilst I didn’t actually observe the honeyeater foraging on the hive it was showing a lot of interest, perhaps attracted by the ‘bearding’ bees congregating on the outside of the hive*. After I disturbed it the bird flew into the flowering ironbark on our block where is started feeding in a more traditional manner.

A small group of Blue-faced Honeyeaters are now well established in town and I hear their distinctive harsh calls most days.

Blue-faced Honeyeater, Wyndham Street Newstead, 30th December 2019

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The lemon wash on the ear coverts and olive crown signify that this bird is an immature. Adult White-eared Honeyeaters have a steel grey crown and the ear patch is completely white.

White-eared Honeyeater (immature)

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Note: The original version of this post incorrectly suggested that the honeyeater was attracted to honeycomb on the outside of the hive … it wasn’t honeycomb (I should have got closer to confirm!) but was in fact the occupants exhibiting a behaviour known as ‘bearding’ in an effort to cool down the hive. Click here for more information … thanks Janet!

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

King of the ‘cicada hunters’

In spite of their name, Sacred Kingfishers have a varied diet, with fish only a minor component, if at all.

They will target a range of suitable prey, including yabbies, skinks and an array of insects such as phasmids and cicadas. My favourite pair is nesting again along the Loddon – the tell tale signs of whitewash around the tunnel entrance indicating that there are now small nestlings inside … and cicadas are on the menu.

While the sexes are similar, the males are usually slightly more vibrant in colour and this is evident in the images below.

Sacred Kingfisher, Loddon River @ Newstead, 22nd December 2019

The nest site … clear signs of activity

The male with a juicy cicada

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and the female …

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Unpaid Army of Seed Collectors still employed at Newstead Natives Nursery

Nine summers ago I wrote a post here about the tiny ants that collected Eutaxia seed at my place.

Once again today I find a collection of seeds on my step – this time of Acacia ausfeldii, a threatened species from Bendigo planted in my garden. It is a larger seed than that of Eutaxia microphylla, roughly the same size as the entrance hole to the ants nest. So it is amusing to watch a patient and persistent tiny ant manoeuvring the seed much more massive than itself little by little until until the seed finally fits down the hole. As with the pea seed the ants remove the tasty white aril and eject the ‘naked’ black seed back up out of the hole.

Seed and a few ants around nest entrance hole, Newstead. Photograph: Frances Cincotta, 21 December 2019

In the photo you can see on the yellow card the whole seeds as they are straight from the Acacia ausfeldii shrub in my garden, with the white aril attached on the right hand side of each seed. Compare them to the ‘naked’ seed around the ant hill entrance (close to bottom of photo, on bottom end of largest quartz pebble in step).

No mucking around with shelling seeds from pods for me in this case – all I have to do is sweep my step! How clever is the shrub to put a tasty treat for ants (and perhaps birds) on the seed to help it get dispersed? The aril  is not needed for germination at all, but is an important source of protein for the ant colony.

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