by Patrick Kavanagh
A nocturnal venture into the bush at our place at Strangways at the moment means encountering a myriad of tiny spiders. Some, like this Crab Spider (about 10mm long including legs) pretend to be a bit of plant matter hanging in the web as soon as my light hits them.
This slightly larger green spider was too intent on wrapping up its prey to be bothered by the paparazzi.
Many of the spiders in the Golden Wattles at the moment, are however much smaller – a millimetre or even less in length.
A tiny spider with Golden Wattle flower bud
What did surprise me recently though, was the number of tiny midges that I at first assumed were trapped in the tiny webs of these arachnids. But as soon as I got too close, they would fly off. It seemed that they were using the webs at least for perching. But is there some other purpose? I’d appreciate any information about why they might choose to linger on the trap of a predator. I think they are midges rather than mosquitoes as their back legs are down. And I think the feathery antennae on this one mean it’s a male.
By day, there have been quite a few small black wasps on both Golden Wattle and Cassinia arcuata bushes and there have been a few Eucalyptus Weevils about.
Wasp on Golden Wattle
Another mystery for us was a strange looking multi-legged animal in the tub in our laundry. We fished it out with a Grey Box leaf and having no idea what would be an appropriate habitat, took some pics of it on the leaf before letting it go in the garden. Typing “bug with 15 pairs of legs” into Google quickly identified it as a House Centipede. It seems it would have been more accurate to photograph it in the house – their preferred habitat in which they hunt other invertebrates. There are native species, but I think this is the introduced one, Scutigera coleoptrata. We don’t know if it was living at our place or came back with our washing from a recent camping trip in NSW. A striking photographic subject even if it shouldn’t be here.
We were fortunate to enjoy a burst of autumn sunshine this morning. This was soon followed by a wintry blast to remind us that some bleak days are just around the corner. I headed out to the Spring Hill area in search of orchids and managed to find a few, including some dainty Tiny Greenhoods (pictured below), a few Parsons Bands and a single badly munched Autumn Greenhood.
Birds were few and far between but there is still the odd dragonfly and damselfly about to remind us of summer.
Tiny Greenhood Pterostylis parviflora, Spring Hill area, 6th May 2017
Willie Wagtail along Mia Mia Track
Wandering Ringtail Austrolestes leda
It’s the little things in nature that often intrigue me the most.
At present the Drooping Sheoak in the churchyard next door is looking magnificent – the golden branchlets glowing in the late autumn sunshine. While looking closely at the tree I noticed lots of European Wasps, feeding along the branchlets, presumably gathering an exudate of some sort from the junctions between segments – this is actually where the tiny true leaves can be found.
Drooping Sheoak ‘foliage’
European Wasp feeding on sheoak foliage
A small flock of Weebills arrived and began hunting for prey … a wasp would be out of the question, but the birds happily gleaned tiny insects from the foliage, regularly darting out to flutter outside the canopy in typical Weebill fashion. I was surprised then to see one of the birds drop to the earth and snatch a fly. I can’t recall ever seeing a Weebill feeding anywhere other than amongst foliage and the couple of references I quickly looked at made no mention of this behaviour. I’d be interested to hear from readers about your observations.
Weebill with fly, Wyndham Street Newstead, 3rd May 2017
It seems that there is always so much to discover with some magnification at night in Box woodlands. With a bright headlight and some reading glasses I found what seemed to be very strange looking ant, with red blotches of various sizes. The macro lens revealed a very serious infestation of mites affecting this poor lady. She seemed to be feeding normally, taking something from the little gland at the base of the leaves of Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), but was a little slow. I think the ant might be a Golden-flumed Sugar Ant, but would be happy to have a more certain identification.
Ant with mite infestation
Ant with mite infestation feeding on wattle leaf gland
On the same wattle, I found a tiny bug, barely visible with just glasses. I’ve met this one before and the folk at bowerbird.org.au identified it as a Tingid Lacebug (Nethersia sp.)
Tingid Lacebug (Nethersia sp.)
Another small inhabitant of the bush that I’d met before was a Sutural Belid Weevil (Rhinotria suturalis). They make a great macrophotography subject as they tend to stay very still. This one was on a Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)
Sutural Belid Weevil
Sutural Belid Weevil up close
Climbing around on a Long-leafed Box sapling was this tiny translucent bug. I’m not sure of its identity, but it looks a bit like a Mirid Bug nymph to me.
Although the number of arthropods visible around our place at Strangways has dropped significantly as the cooler weather moves in, there are still some insects around by both night and day. And a profusion of spiders. I have been quite surprised to encounter a few nymphs in the last week. It seems a little late in the season for young ones.
By day I have encountered a lone Coreid bug (Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug) nymph on a Grey Box sapling, as well as an adult Acacia Horned Treehopper on Silver Wattle with retinue of attendant ants. The ants declined to be included in the photo shoot.
Coreid Bug nymph
Acacia Horned Treehopper, pretending to be a thorn.
Slender Bee Flies are still taking advantage of the afternoon sun and the second-flowering Shiny Everlastings.
Slender Bee Fly
By night I found a sole Treehopper nymph, again with attending ants. I suspect this one will moult into another Acacia Horned Treehopper.
Treehopper nymph on Golden Wattle
Also by night I found what I think is a Lauxaniid fly sheltering on a Long-leafed Box leaf and a wasp hiding in Silver Wattle foliage for the evening.
Wasp on Silver Wattle
Amongst the many spiders hunting in the bush at present, I found this small gem under a Grey Box leaf. It’s only small, but the pattern of the eyes, the splayed out legs and lack of web make me wonder if it’s a very young Huntsman.
Spider on Grey Box
A very distinct kind of buzz has been calling my attention to the rosemary bush in our front yard. All summer it has been visited by the occasional Blue-banded Bee Amegilla cingulata, but at present there are usually half a dozen of them feeding on the flowers. I’ve read that these bees use a high frequency buzz of their wings to shake pollen from flowers and this seems consistent with their distinctive pitch. Apparently these ground nesting bees also have a particular liking for blue flowers, which explains why I’ve most often seen them on lavender and rosemary as well as our Flax Lilies. Until now, I’ve found them quite wary, but in the last few days they seem very tolerant.
Blue-banded Bee I
Blue-banded Bee II
I’ve also been surprised to find quite a bit of Autumnal mating activity amongst the Tricolor Soldier Beetles Chauliognathus tricolor that are abundant in the yard now and wonder if that is unusual.
Tricolor Soldier Beetle
We’ve also had a modest second flowering of the fabulous Shiny Everlastings and they seem to be attracting large numbers of small and slow-moving mosquito-like insects. Thanks to the generosity of Flickr contributors, I now know that these are Slender Bee Flies of the genus Geron. These are important pollinators and as adults rely on nectar and pollen for nutrition. Their larvae however live on the eggs and larvae of other insect species and the female Bee Fly will lay her eggs in the nests of the hosts. And I thought it sweet that these delicate and often gracefully hovering “mosquitoes” were leaving me alone. The genus name apparently derives from the Greek word for old man due to their hunched appearance.
Slender Bee Fly I
Slender Bee Fly II
by Patrick Kavanagh
I well remember the experience of revelation when the copy of “The How and Why Wonder Book of Insects” that I’d received as a hand-me-down explained the mysterious little cones, perfectly formed with grainy sides, in the dirt around our yard and in the bush. They were the traps of Ant Lion larvae. The book described how an ant would slide into the trap and be eaten by the larva below. I was not beyond guiding an ant to such a fate and watching with fascination as the Ant Lion concealed in dirt at the bottom of the pit would flick dirt on the ant to help it slide into its pincers. I gently blew away the dirt to see the strange animal that is an Ant Lion larva. In 2014, I broke my own rules of not disturbing my insect subjects by again exposing one of these larvae for some photos. But until a last week, I’d never had a chance to photograph an adult Ant Lion. They are nocturnal and shy and I’d only seen one once. Until we found this one struggling in one of our dogs’ water bowls at night. It sat quietly on the leaf that we extracted it with, long enough for a few photos before it flew off.
Ant Lion traps, Strangways, 19th March 2017
Adult Ant Lion aka Lacewing
On the other side of the predatory coin, I also recently enjoyed some time with some friendly Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus. The reading I’ve done on this species suggests that they are very aggressive, but this little crew were very happy for me to lie in the dirt close to an outlet of their nest and snap away. I was also interested to read that they can also engage in ritual fights with meat ants from other nests and that they are often eaten by our woodland bird species. A few of these ants seemed to be removing small dead insects from the nest, which I thought might be young that had died.