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 BeeAmegilla 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 BeetlesChauliognathus 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.
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 AntsIridomyrmex 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.
I was intrigued to find one of the few remaining Eucalypt Tip-wilter BugAmorbus sp. nymphs having just gone through a moult to the next instar. I’ve seen so many of these this year and lots of their withered, vacated exoskeletons, but this is the first time I’d seen the soft-skinned occupant leave the old skin behind. I was struck by the utterly different colour of the fresh skin to either what had gone before and to what it would look like when set. The insect also seemed only able to hang down as its legs had no strength in compression. I was pleased to find another specimen nearby to show what the next instar would look like.
Eucalypt Tip-wilter Bug, Strangways, 3rd March 2017
Tip-wilter bug moulting
I also found one last Acacia Horned Treehopper and noted that it seems to have none of the white honeydew secretion that I’d seen on others of this species and as a result, no protective retinue of ants.
Acacia Horned Treehopper
There still seem to be a few Myllocerus weevils about. When I’ve looked up information about this species, as well as many others, much is related to our local invertebrates being “pests in eucalypt plantations”. And here they are co-existing in our bush and in no way a pest, presumably because the diversity of our bush provides a balance of predators which the monocultures of plantations lack.
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 BugsAmorbus 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 MothAcyphas 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 AntsPodomyrma 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
Picnic Point, on the western edge of Cairn Curran never disappoints. It’s been a resting spot for Latham’s Snipe recently and I’ll be checking it regularly throughout the autumn.
Last night I had time for a brief visit and was amazed at the activity – dragonflies cruising the shallows, families of Grey Teal and both Whistling and Black Kites circling.
A pair of Masked Lapwings were very annoyed at my intrusion – a fluffy youngster disappeared into the long grass but the parents kept a noisy watch overhead. A young Australian Magpie-lark was snatching insects from the shoreline. This is a species that I’ve rarely photographed so I was pleased to capture some reasonable images.
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
With the warm – well, actually hot! – weather at this time of year, our local bushland is fairly fizzing with the sound of cicadas.
We have several species locally, and I wrote a post a while ago attempting to identify each by their calls. The Redeye, Psaltoda moerens, the largest of them, is quite characteristic and reasonably well known. It is easily recognisable by its song, which builds to a crescendo of revving and yodeling buzzes.
But more common are the medium-sized cicadas of the Pauropsalta family; P. rubristrigata, and the smaller Black Squeaker, P. encaustica. En mass, they fill the bush with that persistent zizzing and fizzing that we hear. Heard up close, each species has quite distinct calls, with individuals giving quite a degree of variety, from steady buzzing to more rhythmical patterns such as “ch-ch-cher, ch-ch-cher”.
I realise it is unnecessary, given how ubiquitous they are now, but here is a recording of our local multi-species cicada chorus.
… and some images of a P. rubristrigata I came across the other morning. They are usually quite wary, so nice to get these close ups. Notice the red hind border of the abdominal segments.