Category Archives: Invertebrates

The bush awakens

It’s wonderful to wander through our bush full of flowering Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha). As the colour fills the woodlands, invertebrates seem to be waking up.

Golden Wattle

Golden Wattle blossom

The flowers attract many pollinators and in the sunlight of a still clear day, minuscule flies are common. Some of this seem well under a millimetre long, but I’ve yet to manage a photo of one so small. This one was about 3 mm long.

fly on golden wattle

Fly on Golden Wattle

Ants on the wattles seem more interested in the secretions from the little gland in the bend of the leaf petiole than they are in the flowers. This one was only couple of millimetres long.

Ant on Golden Wattle

Ant at leaf petiole gland

Looping caterpillars like this one of the moth genus Chlenias are out in force. This one is hanging from a Golden Wattle.

Hanging Chlenias - Looping Caterpillar

Chlenias caterpillar

Others were munching on leaves and flowers.

Looping Caterpillar - Chlenias sp.

Chlenias sp.

These same caterpillars are also very keen on the Drooping Cassinia (Cassinia arcuata).

Chlenias sp

Chlenias sp. on Cassinia

The Cassinia is also favoured by small flies at the moment.

Fly on Cassinia

Fly on Cassinia

Nearby, a Climbing Sundew (Drosera macrantha) seemed keen on the small flies that were visiting the Cassinia shrubs. Can a plant be keen on something? I was very excited to find this plant as I’ve not seen this species of Sundew on our place in the 25 years that we’ve called it “our place”. Thanks to Frances Cincotta for identifying the plant for us!

Climbing Sundew

A Climbing Sundew feast.

 

More winter macros

As the Golden Wattles (Acacia pycnantha) bloom, a wander into the bush reveals some more of the invertebrates that brave the winter cold.

On one of the beautiful wattle blossoms, a tiny fly, 5mm long, sleeps deeply as I twist the branch to get a clear view. Pollen has stuck to the tiny sleeper.

Fly on Golden Wattle bloom

A fly sleeps on Golden Wattle.

On another Golden Wattle, a Slender Leaf-shaped Orb Weaver spider (Araneus talipedatus) sits in his beautiful web. As my light disturbs him, he runs up the web to shelter on a leaf. The big, brownish pedipalps give away the sex of this tiny predator.

Slender Leaf-shaped Orb Weaver

Slender Leaf-shaped Orb Weaver

A small bright red spot on an old stump catches my eye. I am delighted to find a Red Velvet Mite hunting on the stump. This adult, about 5mm long, freely wanders for food in leaf litter and on dead wood. Its larvae attach to insects and spiders, drawing blood before dropping off to metamorphose into this delightfully fuzzy little creature. These small animals are classed as arachnids, but are not spiders.

Red Velvet Mite

Red Velvet Mite

I was very pleased to be able to see the eyes on this wonderful creature. The photo looks to me a bit like a mini red echidna.

Red Velvet Mite

The face of a Velvet Mite

Red Velvet Mite

Quite an agile explorer

 

Winter’s tiny predators also undaunted!

A week or so ago, I posted about the tiny ants foraging on a winter’s night. But I’ve also been collecting photos of some of the tiny predators also.

Warning for arachnophobes – these are mostly spiders!

Most of the spiders I find in the bush at our place at Strangways at this time of year range from very small to miniscule. Most of the shrubs in our understorey have a number of tiny spiders hanging from webs, which can be incredibly challenging to photograph. This little one was no more than 2mm long. I like the way some of the eyes peep out in this one.

tiny spider

A miniscule spider

Slightly larger, about 5mm long, was a little orb weaver with a beautiful web draped over a gap in the bark of a Long-leafed Box.

Orb weaver

Orb weaver

Spiders of the genus Araneus are also orb weavers. I think this species is Araneus talipedatus – Slender Leaf-shaped Orb Weaver. I think the large palps on this specimen mean that it’s a male. According to the CSIRO “A Field Guide to the Spiders of Australia” this genus usually hunts by night using their orb webs.

Araneus sp? male

Male Araneus

Another specimen had small palps, perhaps a female.

Araneus sp?

Female Araneus

Dangling by single thread from the branch of a Golden Wattle was a small grey spider about 6mm long. When my light and camera got too close, it scuttled quickly up the thread to the branch. At that point I could see from its two large eyes in the middle of the front row it was a Jumping Spider. I was a bit surprised as I’d thought that Jumping Spiders were mainly daytime hunters, leaping to catch their prey. I didn’t know that they like to hang from threads at times. The people at the Australian Spider Identification Facebook page identified this one for me.

Jumping Spider - Cytaea sp

Jumping Spider – Cytaea severa

Jumping Spider - Cytaea sp

Good camouflage!

The only larger spider that I’ve seen on recent nights was this impressive Eriophora biapicata. This one was about 20mm long.

Eriophora biapicata

Eriophora biapicata

But of course, not all winter predators are spiders. Some are not even animals! It is a spectacular time of year for Scented Sundews, Drosera whittakeri. In places the 25mm diameter leaf rosettes carpet the floor of our bush, supplementing their diets by attracting, poisoning and digesting small invertebrates with the sticky secretions on their stalked leaf glands.

Scented Sundew (Drosera whittakeri)

Scented Sundew

At 3:1 macro (ie the image projected onto the camera’s chip is 3x life size) these sticky glands have an extraordinary other-worldly appearance.

Scented Sundew (Drosera whittakeri)

Scented Sundew leaf glands up close.

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.