Category Archives: Spiders

A golden autumn

A number of folks have commented in recent weeks on the proliferation of spiders in the local bush, in particular the extraordinary Golden Orb-weaver Nephila edulis.

These magnificent spiders have been casting their webs with enthusiasm post Xmas. Walking in the bush at present is tricky as you weave your own way amongst their silken creations, some of which are more than a metre across.

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Golden-orb Weaver, Mia Mia Track, 27th March 2022

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Speckled Warblers have bred again during autumn, a good sign for this declining woodland bird. I’ve also spotted both Red-capped and Scarlet Robins in recent weeks … they went missing during the heat of summer.

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Speckled Warbler (female)

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Speckled Warbler (male) … ferrying food, 7th March 2022

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Speckled Warbler (male) calling

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White-eared Honeyeater, 27th March 2022

Small and smaller

The range of sizes of species the can be seen with a macro lens is extraordinary, across the biological kingdoms from plant to animals.

As our beautiful spring unfolds, we still have a few of the beautiful, delicate little Twining Fringe-lily flowers (Thysanotus patersonii) dangling over the low shrubs and native herbs in the bush at our place at Strangways. Each year, their tiny, leafless, soft stems push out of the soil and leaf litter, twining around any support and setting their intricate, star like blooms. Little wonders in our woodlands.

Twining Fringe-lily

With flowers about a centimetre across, the Fringe-lilies dwarf some of the other tiny plants visible this spring. Stems of Crassula decumbens have been up for a while. They grow on hard surfaces including rocks and in the middle of gravel roads, starting out a vivid green colour, but by now having flowered they’ve turned a beautiful pink. Whilst some of the specimens at our place are up to 70mm high, I was particularly keen to get a shot of a smaller plant and found one only a centimetre high sprouting from a bed of moss.

Crassula decumbens

One of my favourite tiny plants is the Hairy Stylewort, Levenhookia dubia. This year there have been wonderful little stands of these – hundreds of individual plants up to a mighty 20mm high with a tiny bunch of flowers on top of a thin stem. I found it very hard to take a pleasing shot of a whole group of them, so focused on a solo plant to show how it gets its name.

Hairy Stylewort – the flowers are <2mm across

A visit to one of the Drooping Sheoaks in our front yard often yields some interesting arthropod finds – but it can take some very close inspection. My eye was drawn to what first appeared to be a slight swelling on a Sheoak needle, but with the macro lens turned out to be a most curious looking animal.

Who is this?

Searching some of my usual sources didn’t quickly yield much, so I put the image into an iNaturalist observation and the site suggested that it’s a Plecoptera or Stonefly. The adults lay their eggs (up to 1000) in fresh water, where the larvae feed mostly on algae and other vegetable matter. According to the CSIRO web site, the nymphs go through up to 15 sheddings of their exoskeletons before becoming an adult and this may take up to 3 years. The adults are also vegetarians and don’t venture far from the water in which they grew.

Further very close inspection showed another, much smaller denizen of the Sheoak needle, a tiny spider hidden between some needle buds.

A miniscule predator.

As the Golden Everlastings (Xerochrysum bracteatum) burst into flower, there is also quite a range of sizes of insects visiting them. The largest by far are the feral European Honey Bees.

European Honey Bee

Far more pleasing to my eye are the numerous hoverflies starting to appear.

Hoverfly

At the micro end of the scale, I’ve come across a few truly tiny insects that appear to be depositing eggs in the heart of the Everlasting flowers. One was a fly, looking very like a gnat, only 2mm long.

A very small fly

On a similar scale, a tiny wasp also seemed to be leaving something behind.

A 2mm wasp leaving eggs in an Everlasting flower

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!

An old friend in the shine

I’ve ‘known’ this old Yellow Box for more than three decades.

At various times it has been home to nesting Laughing Kookaburras, Brown and White-throated Treecreepers and Sacred Kingfishers … in some years simultaneously. I’m sure the tree is also home to bats, sugar gliders and who knows what else!

This season it’s the kingfishers that have returned to breed once again. An early morning visit showed that spiders (wolf spiders I think) were the favoured tucker. I witnessed at least 10 visits over the course of an hour where spiders were delivered to the nestlings. I find it remarkable that the kingfishers are dining out on prey that is completely invisible to me as I stumble through the bush.

Yellow Box, Rise and Shine, 12th December 2020

Sacred Kingfisher with spider prey

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Arriving at the hollow …

… departure

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The other parent … possibly the male

This time with a grasshopper

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.

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

Why mornings are best

I wish I was more of an early riser … sadly I’m not.

On the rare occasions that I make the effort it is almost always richly rewarded. Yesterday was a foggy start in the Muckleford bush as bird calls rang out around me – Eastern Yellow Robin, Pallid Cuckoo, Black-chinned Honeyeater and Golden Whistler were stand-outs.

As the first rays of sun broke through the fog, a few birds … including the Fan-tailed Cuckoo pictured below, soaked up the warmth before beginning their morning foraging.

Birds are almost always easier to observe and photograph at this time of day, allowing a closer approach and often performing some interesting antics.

Tunnel Track, Muckleford State Forest, 5th September 2020

Dew-laden web

Galah and nest hollow

Fan-tailed Cuckoo

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Yellow-faced Honeyeater

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

The time of small things

As winter bites, there are still plenty of invertebrates about, but they are almost all very small.

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha)flower buds are still a target for beetles, but they are mostly 3mm long or less.

Tiny beetle on Golden Wattle
Tucking in on a cold night

There are plenty of spiders around and often less than a mm long, like one I managed to photograph of a Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata) at night.

Minuscule spider

Elsewhere on the same Sheoak were a couple of small Psyllid bugs, a safe distance from the tiny predator. These were only a couple of millimetres long.

Psyllid bugs

After a bit of rain, we’ve had another mass surfacing of springtails (Collembola) from the leaf litter. As I mentioned in a previous post, these are not insects in spite of having three pairs of legs.

Springtail profusion

Today there were many clusters of thousands of these little creatures (<1mm long) – writhing masses of little lives all tumbling over each other as they dispersed.

Springtails really know how to teem

These little creatures have a very important role in breaking down decaying vegetable matter and fungi. There is a great article on them on The Conversation. And I think they are very cute.

The sweetness of the springtail.