A somewhat unanticipated, but very welcome event … we enjoyed 8mm of rain yesterday morning. Within minutes of its gentle onset, swarms of insects emerged, including flying ants of various varieties.
Once the rain had stopped, but under still leaden skies, I paid a visit to the Rise and Shine Bushland Reserve. There was lots of bird activity … the bush always comes to life when rain follows a dry spell … and insectivorous species were especially active. Black-faced and White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Restless Flycatcher and Dusky Woodswallows were joined by numerous Olive-backed Orioles in their hunt for insects.
I was struck by this juvenile Olive-backed Oriole that I first spotted catching winged ants from the ground. It was being followed by two immature and inquisitive Crimson Rosellas, prompted apparently by the foraging success of the oriole. Over the course of a five minute cameo the rosellas followed the oriole to a succession of perches but at no stage did they make any attempt to interfere. I can only surmise that they were hoping to share the oriole’s success but I’m not clear on their strategy, if indeed they had one!
Rosellas are mainly fruit and seed eaters, but they are known to take insects, especially larvae – this behaviour though is a first for me.
Olive-backed Oriole catching flying ants, Rise and Shine Bushland reserve, 8th March 2021
Late summer and the Soldier Beetles are on the march. Well, not so much marching as breeding!
I’ve often wondered why they’re called soldier beetles. A bit of reading reveals that, since they were named long before the days of military camouflage, their red and black colours evoked the soldier’s uniforms of the day. They are also called leather wings due to their soft wing covers or elytra.
Plenty of other beetles are around at the moment too. Acacias sport quite a few Calomela leaf beetles.
One night recently, I came across an unusually large number of dragonflies sleeping in our front yard, hanging from various shrubs. I think they are Blue Skimmers (Orhtretum caledonicum). Not very blue at the moment as I think they have just moulted. As their skins mature, the boys will go a powdery blue colour and the girls will go brown. It’s not often that I get such cooperative dragonfly subjects!
Visits to a series small bush dams often form part of my regular visits to the Mia Mia.
It is common for me to see either a White-faced Heron or White-necked Heron on my arrival at these spots, in some cases both species are present. Typically they will depart for a quieter option nearby.
Yesterday afternoon, on South German Track, as I set myself up in search of bush birds I noticed a motionless White-necked Heron observing me from the far side of the dam. It must have been feeding amongst the rushes when I arrived and I suspect the dining was so good that it was prepared to tolerate my presence. After ten minutes or so it resumed hunting, snaring a yabbie at a strike rate of better than 50%.
Then a Wedge-tailed Eagle appeared overhead, perhaps 100 metres up. The heron had been occasionally casting its eyes skyward and it was obvious why. The arrival of the raptor made the heron extremely nervous, to the point that it flew a couple of tight circles over me and then landed close-by to perch in a dead tree overhanging the water. By this stage it had become quite accustomed to me and happily preened for a time before descending again to chase yabbies.
White-necked Heron, South German Track, 7th February 2021
When we read “Lord of the Flies” at school, we were taught that the term referred to the devil. It turns out that both adolescent male humans and flies were given some bad press by William Golding. Journalist Rutger Bregman discovered that when a bunch of schoolboys were indeed stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific during the 1960s, they organised a very functional and caring little society that helped them all survive until they were rescued. And of course, flies far from being repulsive representatives of unadulterated evil, are providers of essential ecosystem services and can be very beautiful.
During last Monday’s heat, lots of flies of all sizes sheltered on our back porch. The largest looked to be about 20 mm long and were very reluctant to have their photos taken. Truly Lords (or Ladies) of the Flies I thought. There were quite a few beautifully marked flies, well bristled and still quite large at about 15 mm long. And these were very sedate – easily encouraged from the decking onto a leaf for relocation and portraiture on the way.
The very helpful site Insects of Tasmania unlocked the identity of this splendid dipteran for me – a Golden Tachinid Fly (Microtropesa sinuata). Whilst it’s hard to pin down much information about this species, Tachinid flies occur across the world and are mostly parasitoids. Unlike a parasite which lives with or in a host without killing it, a parasitoid will end the life of its hapless host. Tachinid flies lay eggs on or in hosts, mostly caterpillars. Pretty grim perhaps, even evocative of Golding’s Satanic vision. But they are essential components of ecosystems, preventing herbivorous caterpillars from decimating vegetation. Adults will usually have an important role as pollinators.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts how one particularly prolific Hardenbergia in our yard is a haven for invertebrates by day and night. Currently quite a few Garden Mantis nymphs (Orthodera sp.) patrol it. They often leap onto my hand or camera as I try to get shots of them. They will then taste their forelegs with the palps around their mouths to work out what I am.
In some years, we’ve had an abundance of tiny Spiny-legged Leafhopper nymphs on eucalypt leaves. This year I’ve seen very few. Whilst they don’t run away, they can be hard to get a good photo of as their main defence is to turn their spiky tails towards any perceived threat. I eventually got a photo of one from the front end. I know it’s not what’s going on, but it’s hard not to see this little cutie as having a very big smile.
I’m always pleased to find Red Velvet Mites in our bush and mostly they are scrambling around the leaf litter and hard to get a good view of. I found one recently on an old grass flower stalk. Again, very cute.
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.
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.
Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.
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.
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.
After having written about the waves of Belid Weevils and Acacia Jewel Beetles a week or so ago, I am now seeing a wave of different wasp species. Many are parasitic and I imagine the wave corresponds to the availability of suitable hosts.
On the Hardenbergia in our yard that seems to be a dormitory for many napping insects, I found a wasp which I think belongs to genus Lissonota. These are parasitic wasps in the family Ichneumonidae. Wasps in this family tend to lay eggs in or on the caterpillars of pupae of moths and butterflies, finding the food sources of their target species and using their antennae to smell out a host. Lissonota wasps tend to have white sections on their antennae.
Netelia is another species of Ichneumon wasp. This one was also on the Hardenbergia, but was quite active on the night I found it, rather than sleeping like the Lissonota which was a few leaves away. I gather that Netelia wasps lay their eggs on rather than in their hosts which makes them ectoparasites. In addition, they are koinobionts which means they don’t impair the development of the host. In contrast, parasites which do impair their hosts (eg wasps that paralyse their hosts) are called idiobionts. Perhaps these are amongst the quirkiest biological terms!
Sawflies are close relatives of wasps, but have thick waists and lay their eggs in the leaves of plants using a saw-like ovipositor from which they take their name. I found a black sawfly on the old flower stalk of a Plume Grass.
Also on an old grass stem, I found what I think is a Stenophyella bug nymph. These bugs are in the family of Lygaeid bugs, which feed mainly on seeds and plant sap. I think this one is a nymph due to the underdeveloped wings.
Back at the usual Hardenbergia a few days ago, I found numerous tiny Jumping Spiders (<2mm long), all of the same species. I assume from their numbers that they’d just hatched. Each seemed to have their own leaf by the time I’d found them.
A few days later and I found one with a catch. The spider was still only a couple of millimetres long and the fly it had caught was even smaller.
The Imperial Hairstreak ButterflyJalmenus evagoras, also known as the Imperial Blue, is a striking and fascinating species.
With a wide distribution along the east coast of Australia it can be found throughout the box-ironbark and damper forests, where it typically feeds on wattles, especially Silver Wattle locally.
Like many butterflies it has a complex and remarkable life-cycle. The adults lay eggs from late spring through to the autumn. It takes about 4 weeks from when the eggs hatch until they pupate and then butterflies emerge about a week later. Eggs that are laid late in the season are dormant over winter, then hatch in spring to release the first batch of larvae.
The Imperial Hairstreak has a fascinating mutualistic association with Iridomyrmex ants. Adult butterflies will purposefully select host plants with ants on which to lay their eggs. The ants attend the caterpillars and pupae, protecting them from predators and parasitoids such as wasps, while at the same time feeding on secretions from the larvae. Click here to learn more.
Imperial Hairstreak Butterfly, Coach Track, Yandoit, 19th December 2020
One of the caterpillars with Iridomyrmex ants in attendance
Caterpillars commencing pupation in a communal web
I’ve ‘known’ this old Yellow Box for more than three decades.
At various times it has been home to nesting Laughing Kookaburras, Brown and White-throated Treecreepers and Sacred Kingfishers … in some years simultaneously. I’m sure the tree is also home to bats, sugar gliders and who knows what else!
This season it’s the kingfishers that have returned to breed once again. An early morning visit showed that spiders (wolf spiders I think) were the favoured tucker. I witnessed at least 10 visits over the course of an hour where spiders were delivered to the nestlings. I find it remarkable that the kingfishers are dining out on prey that is completely invisible to me as I stumble through the bush.
It often seems to me that different insect species often appear in waves throughout the period from spring to autumn. This year it seems particularly pronounced as each species’ wave seems to have larger numbers of Aindividuals than most years. A week or so ago I posted about big numbers of Belid Weevils. This week it’s Acacia Jewel Beetles.
Flat-headed Acacia Jewel Beetles (Agrilus australasiae) look at first glance like Belid Weevils, with long, cylindrical dark bodies, but close inspection show no snout and the iridescent sheen which gives them their jewel-like appearance.
These beetles lay their eggs in wattles, especially Golden Wattles and Silver Wattles in our neck of the woods. The larvae are the borers that shorten the life of these wattles, leaving little piles of drillings at the base of the plant. This particular specimen seemed to have found itself on a eucalypt leaf for some reason.
A bit smaller but more iridescent, Diphucrania Acacia Jewel Beetles are also around in greater numbers than usual.
At this time of year, I often note the building up of numbers of Slender Bee Flies (Geron sp.) They move from the Shiny Everlastings as they finish flowering to the Sweet Bursaria that continue to flower at this time.
I had been keeping an eye on a Ladybird chrysalis on a Drooping Sheoak in our yard of late.
I was very pleased to check it recently as the Small Transverse Ladybird adult emerged, sitting quietly next to the shell as its skin hardened.
Other recent macro finds were a tiny beetle, about 3mm long and a very small Hidden Snout Weevil (tribe Cryptorhynchi), both on Golden Wattle leaves.
I’ve seen quite a few elongated beetles with rust/orange wing covers of late and assumed that they are Long-nosed Lycid Beetles (Porrostoma rhipidius) that I’ve photographed previously, but as I’ve seen them mostly on the wing, I’ve not been able to tell for sure. The first time I got a good look at my supposed Lycid Beetle through the macro lens, I was surprised to find it was actually a Red Belid Weevil – Rhinotia haemoptera. I’ve seen a great abundance of Belid Weevils this spring – more than I’ve ever seen, but none with these fantastic brick-red wing covers.
I was so stunned by its likeness to the Lycid Beetle. Then I found one of the the latter resting on a Cassinia.
Not just the red wing covers, but the black head and body are so strikingly similar. So I was intrigued to read on the very helpful brisbaneinsects.com that the Red Belid Weevil gets a considerable advantage by looking so like its Coleoptera cousin. It turns out that the Lycid Beetle is quite poisonous to eat and its bright colour signifies this to predators. The Weevil gets the same protection without having to be poisonous – just by looking like someone who is. It might also explain why both of these insects seemed utterly unconcerned by my interest, not for a moment considering themselves to be a meal.
Coleoptera means sheathed wing and is the name for the order of beetles. The covers that protect their delicate wings are called elytra. These are modified forewings that allow beetles to get into places that would otherwise destroy their delicate flight wings. Many beetles favourite escape mechanism is to simply drop before flying off, presumably as it’s faster than deploying wings from under the elytra. Often,however, they are quite happy to pose for photographers, like this Comb-clawed Darkling Beetle.
With the abundance of Shiny Everlasting blossoms happening at the moment, it’s a great time to get photos of flies as they collect pollen.
Flies are often nervous, but I find that when an insect has found a flower that it really likes, it stays put even with a camera and big flash diffuser right over it. Is it that it’s so good that it’s worth the risk, or do they not identify me as a threat?
Sleeping flies are also a bonus for the photographer. One seemed to be asleep in broad daylight on a Golden Wattle leaf. I’ve not been able to identify this one, but wonder if it might be a Tachinid fly.
A Hardenbergia in our yard is a favourite napping spot by night for Lauxaniid flies. I can guarantee finding quite a number of them most spring nights. They are always on the northern side of the plant. It took me a while to come up with the hypothesis that they liked the shelter from the cool southerly breeze that’s present however subtle on most nights.