Category Archives: Ants

The wonder of autumn rain

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

II

III … + inquisitive rosella

IV

V … + that rosella again!

VI

Immature Crimson Rosella

As spring unfolds…

With the warmer weather and many flowers emerging, the variety of insects in our yard at Strangways is increasing dramatically.

Leaf Beetles are very plentiful. One I found climbing on the flower buds of a Red-anther Wallaby Grass.

And a very green beetle on a Golden Wattle.

Leaf Beetle on Golden Wattle

And Ladybird Beetles are also around in numbers.

Small Transverse Ladybird Beetle (Coccinella transversalis) on Shiny Everlasting

With the flowers out, it’s also a big time for native bees. Blue flowers are particularly favoured and a Digger’s Speedwell is certainly pulling them in. Tiny Homalictus Sweat Bees (about 3mm long) get themselves right into the flower and seem to bite on the stamens. This one wasn’t going to let go no matter how much I twisted the flower around to get a good view.

Homalictus bee

On one of the many flowering Shiny Everlastings (Xerochrysum viscosum) I found another bee in the Lasioglossum genus of Sweat Bees- a Chilolictus . I often find that once an insect has found a flower that it really likes and starts getting stuck into the pollen, they will often sit there without regard to my very close camera and big flash diffuser. This little bee was totally immersed – literally.

Chilalictus immersed in Everlasting flower
Eventually getting out, covered in pollen.

This particular bee just crawled off the flower and onto my hand. It seemed quite happy on my skin, perhaps enjoying a bit of sweat, living up to its name.

Sweat Bees like sweat!

Geocorid bugs, or Big-eyed Bugs are also making an appearance on grasses and flowers. This one was on the flower buds of a Red-anther Wallaby Grass.

Big-eyed Bug

Ants are also into flowers. Wrinkle ants (Rhytidoponera) seem very fond of the Shiny Everlastings.

Rhytidoponera ant

 

Of the night and of the earth

Winter nights are still a time to find some invertebrates out and about. On a Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) recently I found a very beautiful small green caterpillar, holding itself out perhaps to look like a bit of leaf.

Caterpillar on Golden Wattle

The orange patches mark a lateral extension, a bit like a hood and the face could only be seen from below and in front. On close inspection, this little one was using some silk. When I visited later, there was no sign of a cocoon, so I’m not sure what the silk threads were about.

Quite a sweetie

There are still lots of tiny midges and fungus gnats about, sleeping on leaves at night. You can tell this midge (only 2mm long) is a male from his feathery antennae. And you can tell he’s not a mosquito as his back legs are down.

Male midge on Grey Box leaf

With all the moisture in the soil, it’s a great time to get down into the leaf litter to see some fungi and other tiny treasures.

Fungus fruiting bodies

We’ve had our place at Strangways for 26 years and I’d been familiar with the Scented and Tall Sundews in our bush. Last winter was the first time I’d seen a Climbing Sundew (Drosera macrantha) at our place. Since then I’ve seen at least half a dozen. Perhaps it’s just getting your eye in. Unlike Tall Sundews, which are free-standing, Climbing Sundews tend to climb over other vegetation, like shrubs and grasses. The longest I’ve seen was about 30 cm long. This one, that I found yesterday, was only 4 cm long. So I presume it’s quite young – and yet it still has quite a few gnats and midges in its deadly leaves.

Climbing Sundew (Drosera macrantha) with at least five meals on board

The leaves of Climbing Sundews are bell-shaped and tend to hang down. Those of Tall Sundew are more heart-shaped and the plant tends to point them outwards.

The bell-shaped leaf of a Climbing Sundew, with dinner.

I tend to not turn over too many rocks or logs looking for subjects as I don’t want to cause too much disturbance. In the cold of winter, I do tend to resort to this more often as subjects in the bushes are much rarer. Clinging to the bottom of one rock, I found quite a number of Black-headed Sugar Ants (Camponotus nigriceps), whose nest was under the rock. I took a few photos of this sisterhood before very carefully replacing the rock to not squash any of these sleepy, beautiful ants.

A Black-headed Sugar Ant and her sisters. I think the large, out-of-focus head in the top left corner is a guard. But she too was very soporific.

Raindrops keep sticking to my head

With the cooler weather and rain, it’s been a little challenging getting invertebrate shots. Wolf Spiders (Lycosa sp) are often out and about on the ground at this time of year, emerging from their burrows to hunt on the surface. They are also easy to find at night as their eyes reflect back a brilliant emerald shine towards my headlight. I was surprised and delighted to see that after a shower of rain, they all seemed to carry a miniscule droplet or two right on the crowns of their little heads. Its as if the hairy projections on their skin seem to gather the water in one place.

Wolf Spider (Lycosa godeffroyi?)

Wolf Spider with droplet

On the same damp evening, I found a Bee Fly (Geron sp.) fast asleep on the nascent flower bud of a Golden Wattle, and this one seemed to have a tiny droplet on each side behind the head.

Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

Bee Fly with water

After things had dried off a bit, I found the Black-headed Sugar Ants (Camponotus nigriceps) still tending their crop of Scale Bugs.

Black-headed Sugar Ant (Camponotus nigriceps)

Black-headed Sugar Ant with Scale Bugs

When two workers meet, they touch antennae to check the chemical signal that they are from the same nest.

Black-headed Sugar Ant (Camponotus nigriceps)

Identity check

By day, Meat Ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus) are out and about. In the cool weather, they are less frenetic than in summer and it’s far easier to get some photos with my single focal plane supermacro lens (ie you have to move the camera to focus). These ants live in every mainland state. Numbers in a nest – or complex of nests, as one colony may have several nests – vary from 11,000 to 300,000 and apparently large nests in the outback can be picked up on satellite photos.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex pupureus)

Meat Ant

They are broadly omnivorous, harvesting honeydew from bugs, collecting seeds and eating the flesh of dead animals – vertebrate and invertebrate. They are very important for germinating some seeds and a single nest can disperse up to 300,000 seeds.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex pupureus)

With the right light, you can see some of the internal structures of the ant’s head.

I was impressed by the efforts of one of these ladies as she carried quite a large stick around the nest. The nest is on a steepish slope near our dam and she struggled mightily to drag it around. I never saw her trying to get it into the the nest. The ants go to a lot of trouble to surround their nest with gravel and debris, so maybe it was part of that?

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex pupureus)

An impressive labour

One of her sisters had nearly as much trouble moving a tiny pebble around the nest area, but she did eventually drag it into one of the many entrances to the nest.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex pupureus)

A valued stone

Some impressive new neighbours

We noticed a fairly large new ants’ nest being built in a path in our front yard near the base of a Red Box tree – Eucalyptus polyanthemos. With no activity by day, a nighttime inspection revealed the builders as Black-headed Bull Ants – Myrmecia nigriceps.

Black-headed Bull Ant (Myrmecia nigriceps)

Black-headed Bull Ant

There were large ants and larger ones – this is one of the latter and I wonder if she is a guard. If she is, she was fairly sedate and accommodating, letting me get quite close with some bright lights and not seeming to be aggressive. From my reading on these ants, they seem to like foraging on one particular tree near their nest, so I suspect this will be the Red Box.

Black-headed Bull Ant (Myrmecia nigriceps)

Formidable mandibles

Whenever I’m close to these magnificent animals, I’m always instinctively wary of those mighty toothed mandibles, but I gather that they rarely sink these into people and they dont’ hurt much if they do. Their real weapon is the sting in their tails – a feature they share with their fellow Hymenoptera, the wasps. I’ve been close to them quite a lot over recent years and none have tried to sting me, however.

As this lady let me get a close-up, front view, I was intrigued to see how the hairs on her mandibles made a striking pattern when viewed from this angle. And how she looked so much sweeter.

Black-headed Bull Ant (Myrmecia nigriceps)

Looking a little softer?

I also found a few Praying Mantises on a Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) in our yard.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

They seemed so perfectly camouflaged that I wondered if they have a special predilection for Sheoaks, but life would be a bit hard as there are so few of these left in our patch. I’ve inspected the Sheoaks many times in the days since and not seen them again, so perhaps it was just a chance encounter. Like most Mantises, they have some wonderfully photogenic poses.

Praying Mantis

Up close

I found another insect on an old grass flower stem that puzzled me a bit. Trawling through some of my most reliable sites for identifying insects – Insects of Tasmania and Brisbane Insects – I decided that it may be a Katydid nymph of genus Zaprochilus.

Katydid nymph - Zaprochilus sp?

Katydid nymph?

Ants, an autumn orchid et cetera

When all else fails, the insect macrophotographer can always rely on ants. In times of low invertebrate numbers, they are always there running the show. On a warm autumn day, the Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus near our dam have been out and about. I was intrigued to watch one industrious lady struggle mightily to drag a Grey Box leaf towards the nest. She made absolutely no progress with it at all and none of her sisters seemed to want to help. I have no idea what she wanted it for.

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

Meat Ant and leaf #1

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

#2

Meat Ant (Iridomyrmex purpureus)

I think the raised leg was more for leverage than a request for help.

By night, I found an ant with a significant mite infestation. I had seen this in previous years and the species of ant seemed the same. On bowerbird.org.au it was suggested that the previous ant was a Polyrhachis queen and this looked the same. My source said it was not uncommon to see them with mites. An both of my encounters with ants in this state were in mid-autumn.

Ant with mites (Polyrhachis?)

Polyrhachis? with mites

Flies of all shapes and sizes are common at the moment, but mostly very uncooperative sitters for portraits. Lots of Robber Flies seem to enjoy afternoon sun bathing and even a bit of amorous coupling, but have steered well clear of my lens. Bee Flies (Geron sp.) are also around in good numbers and tend to be more relaxed.

Bee Fly (Geron sp.)

Bee Fly on Drooping Sheoak

Whilst ants, flies and moths are abundant at the moment, we still seem short on the usual quotient of insects that chew leaves and suck sap. So I was pleased to find at least a couple of these recently. There have been a few leafhopper nymphs snuggling into the angles of branches of wattles and eucalypts to avoid detection.

Leafhopper nymph

Leafhopper nymph

I’ve also found a few tiny weevils on Golden Wattle leaves.

Weevil

Weevil

And finally, I was pleased to find a Parson’s Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)or two putting out some flowers.

Parson's Band orchid (Eriochilus cucullatus)

Parson’s Band Orchid

‘In Memorium’ (to a moth)

by Frances Cincotta

Alfred Lord Tennyson was right about nature being red in tooth and claw!

This morning I watched five minutes worth of a grim battle between a Bull Ant and an adult Cup Moth on a paver under my verandah at Newstead.

Bull Ant (Myrmecia sp.) tearing into the body of a female Painted Cup Moth at Newstead Natives Nursery, 25th March 2020

Despite the size difference between the combatants and me thinking the Bull Ant’s eyes were bigger than its stomach I could see after a while that the ant was going to be the victor. I couldn’t watch ’til the bitter end.

Wrestling match continues

Our local eucalypts are defoliated every few years by the colourful caterpillars of this local moth species. Next time you are bitten by a Bull Ant and are cursing the existence of a species that can deliver such a painful sting, keep in mind that the ants might be helping keep Painted Cup Moth numbers in check. Or perhaps the female moth had done all its egg-laying and was old and tired near the end of its life, and that’s why it got caught?

Painted Cup Moth in its larval or caterpillar stage (photographed by Frances Cincotta November 2017)

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 - Cordus sp.

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

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.

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.