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… and now for something completely different!

I suspect most folks will have, at some stage, encountered the organism pictured below.

It’s a slime mould.

These images are possibly the same species, which I suspect is Fuligo septica, a slime mould that goes by the unfortunate common name of Dog Vomit Slime Mould.

Slime moulds are remarkable organisms. They were once thought to belong to the fungi kingdom but are now classified in the kingdom Protista – they live their lives as single cells that mass together into large reproductive structures when food is in short supply. I found these two specimens about a week ago, the first on a layer of decomposing wood dust, the second on soil in a garden bed.

There is some terrific information on slime mould here at Fungi Map, while Wikipedia also provides a useful overview.

Slime mould #1, Newstead, 18th January 2020

Slime mould #2

Successful hunters

Golden-flumed Sugar Ants (Camponotus suffusus) are a very elegant larger ant. I was pleased to find a few of these graceful ladies on a Golden Wattle.

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant (Camponotus suffusus)

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant

I was then surprised to find one of them having been caught by a spider. When I looked at the screen on the back of the camera, I was even more surprised to see four tiny flies on the ant. There seem to be two species and some had quite distended abdomens. I wonder if they were sucking something from the fly or laying eggs into her.

Golden-flumed Sugar Ant, spider and flies

An unfortunate ant.

By night, there are a few Wolf Spiders around (family Lycosidae), easily found with my head torch by the beautiful emerald green light reflecting from their eyes. One particular individual seems very lucky. On one night, a hapless wasp was in the mandibles of this successful spider.

Wolf Spider with wasp

Wolf Spider with wasp

The next night, it was a leaf beetle’s turn to be converted to spider flesh. I was curious that this spider was on some grasses as they usually hunt on the ground.

Wolf Spider with beetle

Wolf Spider with beetle

Wolf Spider with beetle

Front view

Elsewhere, a small Huntsman was waiting patiently on a Grey Box leaf for some food to come along.

Huntsman?

Huntsman

Huntsman?

An impressive array of eyes!

Still plenty of ladybirds around too!

Ladybird

Ladybird on Shiny Everlasting flower at night.

Lots of flies sleeping on leaves at present too. I think this might be a Lauxaniid fly.

Lauxaniid fly?

Fly sleeping on Hardenbergia leaf.

 

 

The abundance of everlastings and hoverflies

When we first came to our place at Strangways 25 years ago, there was one Shiny Everlasting (Xerochrysum viscosum) on our block. We sowed some seeds from Sandon Forest into a fenced area many years ago and now our bush is full of these wonderful plants.

Shiny Everlasting

Shiny Everlasting

Shiny Everlastings

Spreading through the bush

These daisies not only bring colour to the bush, but support a remarkable number of invertebrates.

Beetle

A tiny beetle munches on an Everlasting

They are home not only to the vegetarians, but also to those that prey on others. I was delighted to find this little lacewing larva, with its magnificent disguise of plant debris fixed to its back as it strolled across a flower.

Lacewing larva

Lacewing larva

Having expressed concern about the low numbers of invertebrates in recent seasons, I am pleased to report an extraordinary boom in the numbers of hoverflies in our bush at present. I don’t recall having seen quite so many. There are thousands of them, feeding not only on the Shiny Everlastings, but also on Groundsels and Bluebells. There seem to be a number of species of them as well.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Hoverfly #2

There are also lots of ladybirds visiting the Everlastings too, again in numbers that seem unusual as far as my memory goes.

Ladybird

Ladybird

There have also been quite a few small flies, about 3mm long with large eyes, dropping in for some pollen from the profusion of flowers.

Small fly on Everlasting - Tachinidae; Phasia sp.

Fly

And a bit of a mystery… I found one flower with a cluster of dead native bees (Lassioglossum perhaps?)with their heads stuck deep into the flower. On and adjacent flower, there were a couple more dead bees similarly situated. It’s as if they’ve been lured to the flower to meet their end. Did they come across the larvae of a wasp from eggs laid in the flower as I seemed to photograph a while back? Or is it an insect-eating fungus like the remarkable one recently reported on in The Age?

Dead bees on everlasting

A deadly feast

And apart from their support for many creatures, the Shiny Everlastings of course have a striking beauty all their own. Even as they start to set seed, a close look reveals remarkable beauty.

Shiny Everlasting seeds (Xerochrysum viscosum)

Everlasting seeds

Shiny Everlasting seeds (Xerochrysum viscosum)

And again.

 

Another elegant fly. And some bugs

The last few days have seen an abundance of Crane Flies in our bush. These wonderful insects seem both graceful and cumbersome at the same time. The adult flies live about 10-15 days and have long, dangling legs and elegant wings.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly

They fly slowly and dangle from vegetation like grasses and small shrubs. Like all flies, their second set of wings have evolved into little drumstick-like projections that beat as the animal flies and provide information about the fly’s movements and orientation. This enables many flies to be spectacularly skilful flyers, but the long wings and legs of Crane Flies cramp their style significantly. A close-up shot not only shows these modified wings, but the fascinating face and thorax of these intriguing flies.

Crane Fly

Crane Fly up close

The main priority of the adults is to mate, which they do whilst hanging from vegetation. Females apparently emerge into adult form with mature eggs. After mating, she may lay fertilised eggs in water or moss (the latter I suspect around our way).

Crane Fly

Mating whilst hanging around.

Also out and about are Red and Blue Beetles (Dicranolaius sp). I’ve seen them often, but this is the first I’ve photographed with such ornate antennae. I suspect it is a male.

Blue and Red Beetle

Red and Blue Beetle

I’ve also found a few long bugs on Shiny Everlastings. I think they might be Grass Mirid bugs.

Mirid bug

Mirid Bug

One particular Golden Wattle seems to be playing host to numerous Psyllid bugs, the larvae of which will live on leaves (usually eucalypts) as lerp, covered in a crust of sugars beloved by small birds. The adults are about 2mm long.

Psyllid

Psyllid bug.

Also enjoying the flowering everlastings was a very elegant, brown Lacewing. I think it might be of genus Micromus.

Lacewing - Micromus sp?

Lacewing

 

In praise of flies

 

I was a little suprised recently as I was rabbiting on to an avid bird watcher about the joys of macrophotography and flies in particular when she said “what good are flies?” Well, did that get me started?! From clearing up debris, to pollination, there is no end to the beneficial services provided by flies. So here is some recent evidence, especially about pollination, given the season.

A close look at the beautiful Bendigo Wax Flowers in our front yard shows the first tiny Diptera (meaning two wings, as flies only have 2 wings, unlike other flying insects) for this post. This little one is only about 4mm long.

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #1

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #2

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower

Fly on Bendigo Wax Flower #3

Tiny flies – gnats perhaps – have also been pollinating Gold Dust Wattles (Acacia acinaceae)

Fly

Gnat on Gold Dust Wattle

The beautiful Gold Dust Wattles are also pollinated by a variety of Hoverfly species.

Hoverfly

Hoverfly

Golden Blowflies also do their share and look, to my eye at least, quite lovely.

Golden Blowfly

The introduced Bathurst Burr Fly is another pollinator around at present.

Bathurst Burr Fly (Euaresta sp.)

Bathurst Burr Fly (Euaresta sp)

Aside from pollination, Striated Pardalotes (Pardalotus striatus) also think flies are great! This shot from a few years ago.

Striated Pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus)

Striated Pardalote with Dipteran dinner for the little ones

Of course, flies aren’t the only invertebrates around at the moment.

Geocorid Bug

Geocoreid Bug.

And a tiny beetle <2mm long on a Hardenbergia.

Beetle

Tiny beetle