Category Archives: Bees and wasps

The remarkable world of wild orchids

Newstead Landcare are delighted to present a talk by Emily Noble on ‘The remarkable world of wild orchids’ at 8.00pm on Thursday 21st March at Newstead Community Centre.

As the Secretary of the Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat, Business Manager of the Ballarat Environment Network, Coordinator of the 540ha Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary in Linton for Birdlife Australia, and proud owner of a bush block south-west of Ballarat that is home to at least fifty different wild orchids, Emily has ample opportunity to pursue her interest in orchids and their interactions with the co-habitants of their environment. Trying to catch these interactions on camera provides her with many unexpected insights into their ecology, helping inform her conservation activities, and providing a source of ongoing wonder.

Come along to learn more about these remarkable plants and their fascinating relationships with their world.

All are welcome to Emily’s presentation and supper afterwards. There will be no business meeting to sit through. A gold coin donation would help us cover costs.

Some images (all by Emily) below to whet your appetite!

Mantis Greencomb Spider-orchid Caladenia tentaculata

Veined Helmet-orchid Corybas diemenicus

Golden moth orchids Diuris chryseopsis

Parsons bands orchid Eriochilus cucullatus and a pollen thief ant

Pollinating bee on Golden moth orchid Diuris chryseopsis

Large Duck-orchid Caleana major

Common hoverfly pollinating a White-fingers Orchid Caladenia catenata

Parsons bands Orchid Eriochilus cucullatus with Common Hoverfly

What time is it? Ask the flowers!

In the novel “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert the main character teaches herself to tell the time of day by noticing which flowers are open and which closed on her property in Pennsylvania. This idea got me wondering, “Could I tell the time of day by our local wildflowers?”

In lots of our local flowers such as Pelargonium and Correa once the flower is open it stays open for weeks until the petals die and drop off, but there are some species that do open and close daily. Here are my first observations towards telling the time by flowering events on a mid-summer’s day in Newstead. I have no idea how consistent each individual plant is over time, or how much variation there is between many individuals of each species, but this is what I have noticed at my place in the last few days.

Clock Time Local flowering event
8 a.m. Arthropodium fimbriatum flowers open
1 p.m. Tricoryne elatior flowers open
3 p.m. Dianella tarda flowers open
5 p.m. Tricoryne elatior & Arthropodium fimbriatum flowers close

 

Arthropodium fimbriatum (Nodding Chocolate Lily) only one or two flowers are open on a flowering stem on any one day, and they are open from 8am to 5pm.

Tricoryne elatior (Yellow Rush-lily) – flowers open at 1pm and close at 5pm. (The flowers that have been pollinated are twisted up. The oblong-shaped ones here are buds, not mature enough to open yet).

Dianella tarda (Late-flowered Flax-lily) photographed at sunset

I am never sure if the species name of Dianella tarda is because the plants flower late (tardy) in the day (starting at 3pm), or because they flower later in the season (i.e. Nov-Feb) than the more common Dianella revoluta (Sept-Oct). I haven’t kept vigil to see what time the Dianella tarda flowers close – it must happen sometime between 10pm and 6am.  They seem to be pollinated by Blue-banded Bees in the day time.  Perhaps they have a nocturnal pollinator as well because they stay open well after sunset.

Pollinators plus and some untimely ends

As flowering progresses in our yard at Strangways, the pollinators have become more active. The blue flowers of Digger’s Speedwell (Veronica perfoliata) and Black-anther Flax-lilies (Dianella revoluta) are favourite targets for many native bees. Many native bee species have a strong preference for blue flowers.

The Digger’s Speedwells are covered with tiny sweat bees, too quick for me to catch with my camera. One slightly larger bee, about 3mm long was busy digging into an unopened flower and was oblivious to the proximity of my lens.

Lassioglossum?

Bee on Digger’s Speedwell

At about 10mm long, Lipotriches bees live in burrows, but apparently large groups of males may gather on branches at night to share warmth and protection.

Lipotriches bee

Lipotriches on Black-anther Flax-lily

These are amongst the Halictid bees and carry pollen on their legs.

Strangways, Vic.

Lipotriches

In contrast, the megachilid bees carry pollen on their abdomen, far less efficient for the bee, but great for pollinating more plants.

Lasioglossum bee -Chilalictus sp.

Megachilid bee on Shiny Everlasting

Quite a few different fly species are also busy feeding on the flowers.

Fly

Fly on Shiny Everlasting

Foraging for pollen is not always safe. Flower spiders are common in our garden and are very effective hunters.

Crab Spider

Flower Spider on Shiny Everlasting

Megachilid bee, after encounter with a flower spider

Bee victim of Flower Spider

Another successful Flower Spider seemed to be losing her trophy to some enterprising ants.

Hoverfly

The dismantling of a Hover Fly

Life and death on a Cypress Daisy Bush

The beautiful (local) Cypress Daisy Bushes  Olearia teretifolia planted in our front yard are heavy with flower at present, some branches so weighed with flowers that they droop to the ground.

Cypress Daisy Bush

Cypress Daisy Bush

This abundant and aromatic source of nectar is currently attracting many pollinating insects. Quite a few beetle species make for relatively easy photographic subjects, not inclined to fly off at the approach of the camera.

Beetle - Dermestidae

One of many small beetles collecting nectar and distributing pollen.

Beetle

Tucking in.

There is a profusion of long thin and very hairy beetles. I wonder if they might be Clerid beetles, but would appreciate any better leads to their identity.

Darkling Beetle - Alleculinae

A Clerid Beetle perhaps?

Darkling Beetle - Alleculinae

Getting a good feed.

Quite a few flies are also feasting on the nectar and are clearly very important pollinators.

Fly_18-09-26_1

Fly on Cypress Daisy Bush

Lauxiinid fly

Lauxiinid fly?

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Quite a few native bees are also active, but managed to escape the photographer. Many European honeybees also feed on the flowers and I was quite puzzled when I found this deceased specimen on a flower as if she died in the middle of feeding.

European Honeybee, mysteriously deceased

Deceased European bee.

Less mysterious causes of insect mortality are also about, with a pair of Brown Thornbills Acanthiza pusilla using the bush as a larder from which to obtain invertebrates for the fledglings they are raising in our front yard.

Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla)

Brown Thornbill

A drink of dew

Invertebrate life above the soil is a little harder to find as the weather cools, although there are still plenty of spiders and moths.

I found a paper wasp on the handle of our flywire door yesterday morning. Very cold, it wasn’t moving much. I shepherded it onto a Hardenbergia leaf and to my surprise it started enthusiastically drinking the dew.

Paper Wasp

A cold paper wasp

Paper Wasp drinking dew off leaf

Having a good drink

I continued to wander around the garden and found a few Rhytodoponera ants on a Silver Wattle. These ants seem particularly fond of Silver Wattles. As I looked closely through the macro lens at one ant, I could see that she too was filling up on the previous night’s dew. I wasn’t sure how much was for her and whether she was going to get this load back to her sisters. Nothing was happening fast at this point!

Rhytidoponera with dew drop

Rhytodoponera with dew

Rhytidoponera with dew drop

Up close!

Away from the dew and the insects, I also found this magnificent scorpion under a rock. She was pretty curled up and was not keen on the camera, but I think she was about 25 mm long.

Scorpion

Scorpion

What is this wasp doing and some waterskimming

I have been watching this wasp (or a series of identical ones) visiting this same little stuck-together leaf hideout for some weeks. The wasp seems to spend a lot of time snuggled between the leaves but also comes and goes a bit. The wasp looks very like but not identical to paper wasps busily making nests under our eaves. I wonder if it’s a paper wasp and if so what business does it have here (and it doesn’t seem to be carrying off prey) or is a different species?

Wasp - Polistes sp

Wasp getting between Grey Box leaves

Wasp - Polistes sp

Checking out the intrusive fool with a camera

Insect subjects are a bit harder to find at present, perhaps due to the dry as much as the onset of autumn. But there has been plenty of Water Strider activity on our dam of late. I find these fascinating insects very hard to approach with a camera as they scoot off very quickly. I did get a few close up photos and am amazed by their other-worldly appearance.

Water Strider

Water Strider from above

Water Strider

This Water Strider was happily anchored on some debris and let me get a profile shot at last.

But the Water Striders weren’t the only invertebrates walking on the water. This little spider – perhaps a Wolf Spider from the layout of its eyes – made little forays across the surface of the water from the shore. When it returned to terra firma, it was very hard to see. In this photo, it is on the surface of the dam, a few millimetres above the bottom. I presume it may be looking for a Water Strider for tea.

Walking on water

Spider walks on water.

 

Late summer, laying the foundations for the next generation

Even with the end of summer, there are still a lot of insects readying for the next season. Paper Wasps are still sealing their nests with mulched plant matter under our eaves at Strangways.

Paper Wasp

Paper Wasp readying material to close a nest cell

There are still caterpillars and other larvae out feeding up before metamorphosis. I think these ones might be beetle larvae, but I am happy to be corrected.

Tortoise beetle larvae

Beetle larvae?

We also have various stages and species of Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bugs sucking on eucalypt leaves.

Eucalyptus Tip-wilter Bug (Amorbus alternatus) nymph

Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bug nymph I  (Amorbus alternatus?)

Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bug nymph (Amorbus obscuricornis)

Eucalyptus Tip Wilter Bug nymph II (Amorbus obscuricornis?)

There are also some leafhoppers continuing their symbiotic relationship with our ants, like this nymph on a Golden Wattle.

Leafhopper nymph and attendants

Leafhopper nymph

This Acacia Horned Treehopper shows the honeydew that the ants get in exchange for protecting the leafhopper.

Acacia Horned Treehopper

Acacia Horned Treehopper

Acacia Horned Treehopper and ant.

Soldier Beetles are also out in force and lots of them are finding mates.

Tricolor Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus tricolor)

Soldier Beetles mating.

And just because it’s beautiful, a Belid Weevil on a Silver Wattle

Belid Weevil

Belid Weevil

 

Speedwell, Wallaby Grass and some of their fans

It’s delightful to see some of the beautiful local plants in flower at present. Digger’s Speedwell Veronica perfoliata and Red-anther Wallaby Grass  Rytidosperma pallidum are not only pleasing to the human eye, they have quite a few invertebrate fans as well. The Wallaby Grass can perhaps only really be appreciated with a bit of magnification.

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass (Joycea pallida)

Red-Anther Wallaby Grass up close

By night, the Wallaby Grass provided a comfy bed for a native bee and a beetle.

A native bee sleeps on a Wallaby Grass flower

Native Bee Lassioglossum sp. perhaps sleeping on Red-Anther Wallaby Grass

Clerid Beetle (Eleale genus) on Red-anther Wallaby Grass

A beetle also rests on a Wallaby Grass flower

I was surprised when I had a close look at the Digger’s Speedwell to see how many Aphids were sucking sap from the flower stalks.

Aphid

Aphids on Digger’s Speedwell

Hoverfly

A hoverfly finds the flower already crowded

Native bees are really enjoying the abundance of the Speedwell flowers. I think these are Small Metallic-banded Bees Lassioglossum sp. but I’m happy to be corrected. Myriad Sweat Bees managed to avoid my camera, alas.

Bees on Diggers Speedwell

Bees on Digger’s Speedwell

Bee on Diggers Speedwell

An abundance of pollen.

On a Long-leafed Box sucker, I also found this tiny cricket nymph.

Katydid nymph up close

Cricket nymph

PS: For those who enjoy photographs of tiny things, I will have an exhibition of macro photos “Small World” at Newstead’s Dig Cafe from December 19th. Hope you’ll be able to come along!

An easy intervention with big results

About 15 years ago, we collected a few sandwich bags of Shiny Everlasting seeds from Sandon forest and spread them in the fenced front yard of our place at Strangways. We knew they belonged as there were a few specimens in the bush that were a favourite food of the Black Wallabies.

Protected from browsing, the Everlastings thrived in our yard and spread into the bush, where they are now so abundant, the wallabies leave them alone and we have some impressive stands.

Shiny Everlastings

Shiny Everlastings spreading into our bush

They provide an extraordinary resource for invertebrates and therefore, of course, for the keen macrophotographer.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Plume Moth

Plume Moth

Austral Ellipsidion nymph

Austral Ellipsidion instar (AKA the Beautiful Cockroach)

Flower Spider and ant

Flower Spider (Zygometis sp?) and prey

Clerid Beetle?

Clerid Beetle?

Fly on Shiny Everlasting

Fly

At one point as I was prowling through the Everlastings it seemed for a short period that there was an abundance of tiny iridescent green wasps on them, less than 2mm long. some seemed to be sticking ovipositors into the daisies. After a bit of searching of bowerbird.org and brisbaneinsects.com I concluded that they are of the Torymus famaily of parastic wasps. I am curious about why they appeared in such a brief and intense burst.

Torymus wasp

Torymid wasp I

Torymus wasp

Torymid wasp II

We are well pleased with the results of our little bit of direct seeding a few years ago!

Under a rock, up a tree

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!

Gold-tailed Toothless Bullant (Myrmecia piliventris)

Golden-tailed Toothless Bull Ant

Gold-tailed Toothless Bullant (Myrmecia piliventris)

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.

Symphylan - Pseudocentipede

Symphylan

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.

Brown slater

Slater

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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

Rhytidoponera ant in Silver Wattle

Ant (Papyrius sp?)

Ant (Papyrius sp?) in Drooping Sheoak

Wasp on Golden Wattle_17-05-26_4 crop

Wasp on Golden Wattle flower bud

Eucalyptus Weevil

Eucalyptus Weevil