Cairns Birdwing butterflies emerging

black and green butterfllies

A female Cairns Birdwing (top) has just emerged from the chrysalis at lower right, and the older male has mated her immediately

Three weeks ago I wrote about the collection of Cairns Birdwing chrysalises we found on our bottlebrush tree and observed that we should be seeing the adults emerging “around the end of the month.” They have been appearing for a few days now, so it seems that some of the chrysalises were a bit older than we thought.

black and green butterflies

The same mating pair, fluttering up the tree

Normal courtship involves the hopeful male flying close below and behind the larger, darker female and doing aerobatic tricks around her; if she is impressed enough, she will allow mating to begin.

However, males have no compunction whatever about taking advantage of a female who is still waiting for her wings to stretch and dry after squeezing out of her chrysalis, and that is what has happened in the photo above.

(How do I know the male is older? Simple: when you look closely, you will see that his wings are quite battered.)

As her strength increased, she fluttered and crawled higher in the foliage, dragging him with her.

black and green butterflies

The same couple at a better resting point

This happened late yesterday afternoon and was the second emergence we saw during the day. Meanwhile, we still have half-grown caterpillars in the garden, and others full-grown and beginning pupation.

I checked on the seasonality of the species and Braby’s huge, authoritative Butterflies of Australia said that adults appear all year round but chrysalises can lie dormant for some months in the dry season. That makes sense, since there is no point emerging as an adult when the caterpillars’ food plants are not growing well.

Don Herbison-Evans’ page about the species lists their food plants and provides links to information about them.

black caterpillars

Caterpillars eating the bark of an Aristolochia vine on the trunk of a bottlebrush tree

Our caterpillars have been eating the bark of the main stems of our largest surviving vine and (once again) we would love to hear from people who have more Aristolochia. I’m sure that if we gave away all the caterpillars we could find we would still have more than we can feed.

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Art for Easter

Drill Hall

Townsville people who are looking forward to the long weekend but haven’t made definite plans may be interested in browsing two new or newish arts spaces, the Drill Hall and She Speaks.

We discovered She Speaks, on Bundock St, a couple of months ago. We thought at the time that it was a very pleasant space, with lots of good art craft, and it has been growing since then.

Over the Easter long weekend, She Speaks will be closed Good Friday and Easter Monday but open for normal Saturday/Sunday trading 10am – 4pm. The gallery has just completed its major 6 weekly artworks rotation so there are plenty of new works on display.

The Drill Hall Studio hasn’t quite opened yet but an Easter Market,  10am – 4pm  Saturday to Monday (19 – 21 April) provides a sneak preview of the kind of goodies that will be available there when it opens soon. It’s in Mitchell St, North Ward, so it’s not far from She Speaks and only a block from the Gregory Street Café Strip.

See their Facebook pages for more information: She SpeaksDrill Hall.

 

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Insects enjoying the nectar

long skinny wasp

Gasteruptid wasp

Bug hunters love flowers, not just for their own sake but for the bugs they attract. This set of photos shows most of the insects I saw in just ten or fifteen minutes on one profusely flowering shrub in Anderson Park, beginning with the wasps.

blue-black wasp on white flowers

Blue flower wasp, Scoliidae

This wasp is possibly a Blue Flower Wasp, Scolia soror, and certainly a close relation if not that particular species. There was another similar one feeding on the same shrub, distinguishable by a bright yellow patch on the back of its head; it may have been Scolia verticalis (see them both here, on Graeme Cocks’ site).

Scoliidae is just one family of wasps, the Flower wasps. Gasteruptidae (top pic) is another (BugGuide calls them “Carrot Wasps” and you can see why, but I don’t think they have a genuinely common name), and there are many more including Polistinae, the Paper wasps. This index page on Graeme’s site shows them with their nearest relations, the bees and ants.

small green bee on white flowers

Green native bee

This small native bee (Colletidae) is similar to one which appeared on my earlier all-on-one-plant post. The beetle below is not just similar – it is definitely the same species:

brown beetle on white flowers

Brown Flower Beetle, Glycyphana stolata

small fawn butterfly on flowers

Lycaenid butterfly

The odd angle of this shot was forced on me by my uncooperative subject but does allow me to point out a neat bit of mimicry: the eye-spots and tails on the lower part of the wings are a surprisingly good imitation of the butterfly’s head and antennae (there’s an even more striking example here, on a related butterfly). I’m sure this is not a coincidence, since tricking predators into attacking non-vital parts is great for survival.

blue dragonfly perching on twig

Palemouth Shorttail dragonfly, Brachydiplax denticauda

All the other insects here were attracted to the flowers. This dragonfly just wanted to perch for a while and found a suitable bare twig. He happens to be the first carnivore (insectivore?) on the page and he may well be looking out for prey amongst the smaller bugs attracted to the flowers. As I said in the beginning, bug hunters love flowers.

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Jacana in Anderson Park

small wading bird on lily pads

Comb-crested Jacana foraging on the lagoon in Anderson Park

Jacanas (family Jacanidae) have adapted to, and specialised in, one particular kind of habitat, shallow freshwater lakes and ponds with floating vegetation. They live right across the tropics, with various species in South and Central America, southern Africa, India and South-east Asia through to New Guinea and northern Australia. We only have one species in Australia, the Comb-crested Jacana, Irediparra gallinacea, and it is found in northern and eastern coastal areas from the WA-NT border to about Sydney.

They were new and exotic to me when I first came to Townsville from Victoria but are not too uncommon here; I’ve seen them on Ross River, for instance, and on the Town Common, and I spotted this one on the lagoon in Anderson Park, one of Townsville’s three Botanical Gardens. They don’t move very fast but they can still be hard to observe because they tend to stay well out from the edge of the water, where they are safer.

Jacana showing the extraordinary toes

Jacana showing its extraordinary toes

Their adaptation is in their feet. The toes are enormously exaggerated and spread their weight so widely that they can walk on floating lily pads or other water weeds and exploit the food available on them or just under the surface of the water. The penalty is that they are somewhat clumsy when walking anywhere and can’t fly as well as they otherwise might.

Comb-crested Jacana on lily pads

The Jacana is not very big – its body isn’t much bigger than the lotus bud behind it.

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Cairns Birdwing chrysalis

brown pupa in tree

Cairns Birdwing chrysalis

We’ve had lots of Cairns Birdwing (Troides euphorion) butterflies in our garden in the last few weeks. Every time we go outdoors we are likely to see an enormous black and yellow female or one or two of the vivid green and black, only slightly smaller, males (photos here).

And we are re-running our caterpillar-feeding problem, since our Aristolochia vines haven’t recovered from the last feeding frenzy. We have been moving the caterpillars where we can but today I saw a well-grown individual resting quietly on a rambling rose that it had nibbled for want of anything better, and I couldn’t see any more Aristolochia to move it to. I suspect its outlook there is poor but on the other hand it may be ready to pupate.

They don’t pupate on the vine but on nearby vegetation. The one above is in a bottlebrush tree which supports a vine, so it may have crawled down and or it may have made its way across from elsewhere. In any event, it is hanging just above knee height and it’s doing fine so far.

Update 5.4.14

This is kind of embarrassing but in a good way: sustained examination of the bottlebrush and the rose next to it reveals that we have about ten birdwing chrysalises, not just one or two. The lethargic caterpillar on the rose leaf has begun to pupate by making itself a silken sling like the one you can see above. (That is all it has done today, which seems like very slow progress.) We still also have large, active caterpillars – at least two on the vine in the bottlebrush.

The duration of pupation has been recorded as 26 days, according to Braby’s authoritative Butterflies of Australia, so we should be seeing them emerge around the end of this month.

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