Category Archives: Bees and wasps

Life on the grass stems

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.

Halictid Bee on grass stem.

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.

Stenophyella perhaps?

Weevils are also on grass stems in numbers. I suspect they are feeding on the stems.

Weevil – Cryptorhynchini perhaps.

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.

Spider laying in wait on a grass stem.

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.

Brown Horned Treehoppers

The next insect wave – wasps

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.

Lissonota wasp

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!

Orange Caterpillar Parasite Wasp – Netelia sp.

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.

Sawfly

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.

Stenophyella nymph

ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT – CUTE BABY JUMPING SPIDER AHEAD

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.

Baby Jumping Spider

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.

A small but effective hunter!

Black anthers, bees, other little things and a dramatic end

Black-anther Flax Lilies have (Dianella revoluta) been flowering for a while in our bush. At present, they are bearing both flowers and fruits in our bush at Strangways.

Being blue, they are beloved by our local native bee species. Lipotriches bees are regulars at these flowers.

Lipotriches

Lipotriches are sweat bees of the family Halictidae, nesting in burrows in the ground and attracted to the salt in human sweat – hence the name. The very helpful site aussiebee.com.au talks about the males of this genus gathering at dusk in large numbers on twigs or grass stems. I’ve yet to see this, but would love to.

Much smaller Halictids of genus Lasioglossum are also visiting the flax-lily flowers.

Lasioglossum on Flax-lily flower.

These tiny bees are also enjoying the Digger’s Speedwell flowers that are also still blooming.

And on Digger’s Speedwell

In amongst the flowers, I saw something that looked and behaved like a hoverfly, but seemed too big. When I got a close look through the macro lens, the mystery was solved.

Hoverfly love on the wing

Shiny Everlastings are also in full bloom. I found a little Lacewing larva lurking on one flower, presumably looking for prey.

Lacewing larva – an impressive juxtaposition of camouflage and pincers

Away from flowers, the leaves are also busy places. Leaf Beetles are munching busily.

Middle-bar Acacia Leaf Beetle (Peltoschema suturale)

ARACHNOPHOBE ALERT – SPIDER PHOTO AHEAD!

The truth of life for any animal who’s not a top order predator is that their is always someone looking to turn you into a meal. NO exemptions for cute little leaf beetles.

A Beautiful Badge Huntsman making a meal of a Leaf Beetle.

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

 

Timing, defenses refined by evolution

As spring unfolds, I’m seeing a lot of invertebrates around our place at Strangways that I’ve not seen since the end of autumn. Various species of wasp are around and most have been a bit camera shy, but one was happy to pose.

Brachonid wasp?

I think this little cutie is a Brachonid wasp, but I’m happy to be corrected. Other Brachonids are definitely waking up at the moment. The ovipositor on this one was just too long to include fully in the photo. Brachonids often use these to deposit their eggs into the bodies of Sawfly larvae that the wasp larvae will eat from inside. Over millenia of evolution, the timing of the emergence of the adult wasps has been perfected as I’m starting to find quite a few schools of Sawfly larvae munching on eucalypt leaves.

Sawfly larvae

These larvae have appeared on the same trees that I found adult Pergagrapta Sawflies last autumn, so I wonder if they are the same species.

Pergarapta Sawfly from last autumn

Caterpillars are increasing in diversity. There are still a lot of Chlenias moth caterpillars about, but not as many as a few weeks ago when I posted about them. They have been joined by some other interesting caterpillars.

What am I looking at?

As I was inspecting a Grey Box sucker looking for subjects, I couldn’t help but notice one leaf stalk that seemed to be pointing the wrong way. As I watched, things started to change.

Not quite a leaf stem
What a disguise!

I have no idea what species this little caterpillar was, but I am lost in admiration for the camouflage.

Another very successful strategy for a juicy caterpillar is to look spiky and unappetising. This one was on a Black-anther Flax Lily flower stalk.

How not to look tasty!

Lacewings are also starting to appear in greater numbers and variety.

Green Lacewing

I always like looking at Hoverflies, with their elegant shapes and steady hovering flight. Lots of them are now investigating the flowers in the yard and bush. This one was very sedate, resting on a Groundsel and so a good photo was pretty easy.

Hoverfly

ARACHNOPHOBE WARNING – A SPIDER FOLLOWS.

Wolf spiders are also emerging from their holes in the ground. At night, their beautiful emerald eyes shine in the glow of my headlight. These spiders tend to carry their babies on their backs, which I’ve never managed to get a photo of. They still make an impressive subject for a close-up, in-your-face portrait.

A lichen covered stone makes a great stage for an impressive Wolf Spider

Strange encounters on the tussocks

A wander into the grassy woodland at our place the other night led to some interesting encounters and a puzzle with a solution reminiscent of science fiction.

Focusing my attention on the Poa and Austrodanthonia grasses, I was impressed by how many invertebrates were either sleeping, feeding of hunting on them. And it seems that a lot of insects are waking from their winter down time. I was delighted to find a tiny Praying Mantis nymph, all of 15mm long.

Praying Mantis nymph

I also found quite a few leafhopper nymphs.

Leafhopper nymph, 2mm long

One activity that I forgot to list was mating. A pair of moths were busy organising the next generation.

Mating moths

Tussock grasses seem to be a favourite spot for small flies and wasps to sleep.

Sleeping fly
Sleeping wasp

Katydid nymphs are also starting to emerge. A Twig-mimicking Katydid (Zaprochilus) was doing its best to look inconspicuous.

Zaprochilus nymph

When this nymph is an adult, its wings will project strikingly upwards from its thorax, looking like a forked twig. As a nymph, theu are tiny buds just discernible.

Dorsal view showing wings

I found another Katydid nymph not far away.

Katydid nymph

Hanging on a silk thread between two grass strands, I found a fungus gnat with a large, swollen and very red abdomen. My guess is that she’s heavily pregnant, but would be happy to hear any more informed explanations.

Fungus Gnat

Cup Moth larvae have started making their appearance.

Cup Moth larva

On the ground, perhaps knocked off a wattle as I moved around, I found an exquisite green moth. I assumed it has a relationship with wattles or eucalypts, but I discovered that its a Native Cranberry Moth (Poecilasthena pulchraria) and its caterpillars feed on native cranberry bushes (Astroloma).

Native Cranberry Moth
Native Cranberry Moth

A small bug on one tussock looked to me like a Mirid Bug nymph.

Mirid Bug nymph

Other larval forms about are, of course, caterpillars. Chlenias are still very abundant, but not in quite the enormous numbers of last week. I was puzzled that a small percentage of them seem to have small parcels stuck on their backs. One suggestion is that it might be the skin from a previous shedding that hasn’t come unstuck yet. I’d appreciate any thoughts.

Chlenias with a mystery parcel

Another caterpillar similar in size and shape to Chlenias was magnificently camouflaged.

I look like a stick too!

One fly that I found on a Golden Wattle leaf had me really puzzled. It didn’t look dead as its eyes were quite clean, but it was quite immobile and had a lot fuzz on its abdomen. Its wings and legs were in a very odd posture.

A puzzling fly

A bit of research led me to the fungus Entomophthora muscae, which as its name implies specialises in flies. When the spores come into contact with a fly, they have enzymes that break through the skin of the insect, allowing the fungal threads to spread through the fly. The fungus digests the organs of the fly and as the fly gets sicker, the fungus alters it’s brain function to make the hapless insect climb to a high point on a leaf, stretch its wings and legs. All of this sets the fly up perfectly for the next step. The fungus by now has spread microscopic canons over the abdomen and these will shoot spores out for them to land on the next victim. The wing and leg positions optimise the range of the spores.

And of course, where there are insects, there are those that eat them. Especially spiders. Like a baby Huntsman, about 10mm long.

Huntsman

A Robber Fly at last (& one spider shot at the end)

Autumn has seen a lot of Robber Flies at our place. I love getting photos of these amazing looking animals – they certainly look like they come from the realms of science fiction. So far I’ve had little luck getting shots of them as they have been very restless. In the cool of a recent afternoon, I was pleased to find one perched very sedately on a Cassinia bush.

Robber Fly

Robber Fly

Perhaps it was the cool conditions slowing it down, but I was able to get some good close up shots. They are called Robber Flies as they grab their prey in their strong claws and whisk them off somewhere safe for a feed

Robber Fly

Looking a bit otherworldly

There are also a few small Leaf Beetles of various types about at the moment and they are heavily favouring Golden Wattles (Acacia pycnantha) and especially their developing flower buds.

Beetle

.Leaf Beetle on Golden Wattle

Nocturnal excursions into our bush have also yielded a few finds. One was a small wasp, about 10 mm long snoozing on a native Clematis in our yard.

Wasp

Wasp

And here is the spider warning for the arachnophobes!

Most of the Huntsman spiders that we encounter tend to be fairly large specimens and quite impressive. However, when I’m snooping around the bush at night, I often encounter quite small ones that I assume are young examples of the larger varieties, as they look so similar. These small spiders are usually hiding on a leaf of some type. Although the one I’m presenting here looks very imposing, it was only about 20 mm across.

Huntsman

Small Huntsman on Grey Box leaf

 

Honeyeater visitations

Two things, neither that remarkable, but worth a note nonetheless.

First, a new visitor to the home garden – an immature White-eared Honeyeater. This species is relatively common in the local bush, more so during the cooler months, but this is the first time I can recall one in the garden. Secondly, a Blue-faced Honeyeater skulking with intent around the top bar beehive next door. Whilst I didn’t actually observe the honeyeater foraging on the hive it was showing a lot of interest, perhaps attracted by the ‘bearding’ bees congregating on the outside of the hive*. After I disturbed it the bird flew into the flowering ironbark on our block where is started feeding in a more traditional manner.

A small group of Blue-faced Honeyeaters are now well established in town and I hear their distinctive harsh calls most days.

Blue-faced Honeyeater, Wyndham Street Newstead, 30th December 2019

II

III

IV

V

The lemon wash on the ear coverts and olive crown signify that this bird is an immature. Adult White-eared Honeyeaters have a steel grey crown and the ear patch is completely white.

White-eared Honeyeater (immature)

II

III

IV

Note: The original version of this post incorrectly suggested that the honeyeater was attracted to honeycomb on the outside of the hive … it wasn’t honeycomb (I should have got closer to confirm!) but was in fact the occupants exhibiting a behaviour known as ‘bearding’ in an effort to cool down the hive. Click here for more information … thanks Janet!

Of bees, blue flowers and blues

Lots on native bees around at the moment. And amongst the things native bees like, blue is right up there. A lot of our insect pollinators have a particular penchant for blue flowers.

Black-anther Flax-lilies (Dianella admixta) are in full flower at present, their drooping blooms visited by various bees including Lipotriches, a bee of the Halictid family.

Lipotriches bee

Lipotriches bee visiting Black-anther Flax-lily

Another species of Halictid bee in good numbers at present is the Parasphecodes sub-genus of Lassioglossum. These are much smaller bees, about 3mm long compared to the 5-6 mm of Lipotriches. They were very quick in visiting the Flax-lily plants, but were much more inclined to stay put on Digger’s Speedwell Veronica perfoliata flowers and hence easier to photograph. On the Speedwell flowers, they bury themselves entirely in the cup formed but the flowers and rummage around vigorously.

Lasioglossum bee

Parasphecodes on Digger’s Speedwell

Although there were many of these tiny bees on the Speedwell flowers, this one particular bee was very set on this one flower. As was another even smaller bee (I couldn’t get a clear enough shot to guess at the type) which kept trying to muscle in on the action before being forcefully ejected by the Parasphecodes bee.

Lasioglossum bee sends a smaller bee packing

The battle of the bees.

Halictid bees are also called sweat bees as they delight in drinking the sweat of humans. This one was very happy to sit on my warm hand for a taste.

Sweat Bee

Sweat bee getting some salt.

Of course, whilst they like blue, our local bees are pretty keen on yellow flowers too. A different Lasioglossum species shows what good pollinators they are, delving into a Shiny Everlasting Xerochrysum viscosum.

Lasioglossum bee

Lasioglossum

Often mistaken for native bees, but no less beautiful or important are hoverflies. Being flies – the order nameof flies, Diptera, means two wings – their second pair of wings has morphed into tiny club-like appendages that give the insect important information for exquisite flight control. This modified wing can be seen below the wing just a little way along from the wing root in these photos.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

I often find hoverflies with dented compound eyes, presumably from some collision. It never seems to impair their skills at navigating.

Hoverfly

Not daunted by dented optics

Longicorn Beetles are also around. The name relates to their distinctive long antennae.

Longicorn Beetle

Longicorn Beetle

Close-up, they would seem to be ideal for a role in science fiction.

Longicorn Beetle

Face-to-face

 

 

Beetles and a different use of a flower

On recent nights’ excursion into the bush, there have been a few beetles to be found. On  new shoot of Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), a small Leaf Beetle, about 10mm long.

Leaf Beetle?

Leaf Beetle

Nearby, on another Grey Box sucker, a somewhat larger beetle.

Beetle

Beetle.

Beetle

Head on.

I also found a beautiful Ladybird on a Golden Wattle.

Ladybird - Tirbe Coccinellini

Ladybird.

I have to say that, although the invertebrate numbers have lifted a little with the onset of Spring, it is still harder to find subjects than in previous years. I assume this is the result of the dry conditions.

On checking on the ever-reliable Shiny Everlastings in our bush during the daytime, I was pleased to find this tiny wasp.

Wasp

Wasp

As I kept watching, she seemed to be laying eggs in the flower. The flowers she was most interested in had brown discolourations in the central flower parts. I’m not sure if a diseased flower attracts the wasp, or wasp have changed the flower.

Wasp

Laying in the central flowers