A venture into the bush with torch and camera on a cold night reveals a lot of life in the wattles. A Silver Wattle Acacia dealbata was being slowly combed by 5 mm long nocturnal Epaulet Ants, Notoncus hickmani. (Thanks to bowerbird.org.au for help with ID)
Epaulet Ant, Notoncus hickmani
Epaulet Ant #2
In the spectacularly flowering Golden Wattles Acacia pycnantha there was an abundance of tiny spiders from less than a mm long to much larger arachnids. On one leaf was a young and translucent Hunstman spider, about 20 mm across.
Much smaller, about 5mm long, was a Hamilton’s Orb Weaver Araneus hamiltoni hiding from my bright light in the blossoms.
Hamilton’s Orb Weaver #1
Hamilton’s Orb Weaver #2
More confidently staying in her web was this larger orb weaver, about 10mm long.
Winter deprives the macrophotographic addict of many subjects, although spiders are always easy to find. But lifting rocks is a pretty good way of finding some sedate sitters, even if it means rolling around on the damp ground trying to get a good angle. I found a few treats yesterday and one very special target that had evaded my lens thus far.
It all started close to our back door. The first rock that I lifted had numerous tiny (1-2mm), pale, slow-moving insects that looked disturbingly like termites (very close to the house). Even with reading glasses and a good light I couldn’t pick it – only the wonderful Canon MP-E65 supermacro lens showed me the comforting view of these ants. They were scurrying as best as their cold bodies would to store their precious eggs.
Scouring Alex Wild’s great web site on ants, as well as google and Antwiki led me to believe they might be Doleromyrma. Any better identification would be much appreciated. I know from some ordinary tail-end shots that they don’t have an acidopore.
Another rock further in the bush at our place showed a busy nest of ants that look like ones previously identified as Rhytidoponera after a previous post on this blog. According to Antwiki, they will often nest under rocks and forage in trees, so this fits. They also mostly breed without queens, but workers will mate to produce a female brood. Happy to be corrected if I’ve got this wrong.
Under the same rock was this curious animal, about 15mm long and happily munching on the decaying material under the rock.
What do humans call me?
But above all, I was thrilled to find what I consider to be one of the most beautiful animals of our bush, a Thick-tailed (or Barking) Gecko, hiding under a large flat leftover paver in our backyard. Can’t wonder too much about the scientific name for this one – Underwoodisaurus milii.
Is this my best angle?
Lifting a rock on our place at Strangways, will often show signs of those who live under it, but often they scurry off before I can get a good look at them, let alone a photo. I was pleased then with the variety of species that I found under one rock recently. The most obvious denizens of this netherworld were some Gold-tailed Toothless Bull Ants. It wasn’t until I’d found a match on bowerbird.org.au that I noticed the absence of serrations on the inside of the mandibles, hence the toothless descriptor. I’d never thought that a Bull Ant could be toothless!
Golden-tailed Toothless Bull Ant
Golden-tailed Toothless Bull Ant
I wondered if it was a coincidence that the rock with the ants had so many other species to look at or whether something about the nest meant that the other invertebrates could hang around.
One tiny ant co-inhabitant was a tiny pale centipede-like creature – a symphylan or pseudocentipede. This is one of the many animals who live on decaying matter in the soil.
Other invertebrates the I found were a brown slater and a tiny golden silverfish-like animal. If anyone could help with identifying it I’d be very grateful.
And this is….?
There is plenty of life still in the trees and shrubs, especially the wattles. Any clarifications about identification are appreciated.
Rhytidoponera ant in Silver Wattle
Ant (Papyrius sp?) in Drooping Sheoak
Wasp on Golden Wattle flower bud
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.
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.
by Patrick Kavanagh
As summer has drawn towards its end, the number of invertebrates in our bush at Strangways has been dwindling. But there are still some willing sitters for the macrophotographer’s lens. After reaching considerable numbers early in February, there are now only a few Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bugs Amorbus sp. around, including this nymph, which was not far from adult size. The bush has many webs of Jewel Spiders Austracantha minax and some of these might not be happy about it, but have offered a pretty detailed view of their spinnerets, palps and fangs. The gaudy caterpillar of a Tussock Moth Acyphas sp. does not give hints of the more subdued presentation of the adult moth to come. The tussocks of hair from which it takes its name are clear though, as are the two glands at the back that exude a secretion to protect from ants.
Reliable to find at this time are the Muscle Man Tree Ants Podomyrma adelaidae, so named as they live in trees and have well-developed leg muscles for all the vertical work they do. This crew lives in a branch of Long-leafed Box and there always seem a couple on guard duty at the entrance of the nest. To me they are sweet-looking ants and the creamy dots on either side of their abdomens complement their brown skins beautifully.
Eucalypt Tip-wilter bug, Strangways, 25th February 2017
Tussock Moth caterpillar, Strangways, 26th February 2017
by Patrick Kavanagh
As the season of flowering finishes, the abundance of pollinating insects is replaced by the many that draw on the sap of plants in our garden. I recently found the nymphs of a species of Leafhopper that I’ve not noticed at our place at Strangways before. These tiny mostly black wonders were on a Grey Box sapling and were being tended by a number of different ant species. The first that I noticed were tended by a single Golden-flumed Sugar Ant, which was quite keen to protect her charges from the large intruder with a camera. Others had a retinue of smaller ant species and it was clear to see that the ants were getting a reward of nectar secreted from the nymphs rear end. The next evening, I found a plethora of ants with many of the nymphs in the process of moulting. The careful attention continued the next night with the nymphs at the next instar.
Ants with leafhopper nymphs, Strangways, 29th January 2017