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The very hungry caterpillar

black caterpillar

Caterpillar of Impatiens Hawk Moth on a well-eaten twig of Pentas. Its head is at the right.

Hawk Moths (Sphingidae) are a family of large, heavy-bodied moths whose caterpillars are similarly large and heavy-bodied, and they get that way by eating voraciously.

The Australian Museum says:

The caterpillar of the Impatiens Hawk Moth, Theretra oldenlandiae, is a common visitor to suburban Sydney gardens. It is most frequently found on Balsams, Impatiens balsamina, I. oliveri and I. wallerana, often eating all the leaves. Some other larval food plants include:

  • Arum Lily – Zantedeschia aethiopica
  • Fuchsia (any of the garden varieties)
  • Grape – Vitis vinifera

The caterpillars are black with yellow spots and strips, and have a thin spine at the end of the abdomen that has a white tip. Mature larvae can reach a length of 7 cm. The larvae pupate in a loosely woven cocoon, which they construct within leaf litter.

… Although they may eat your plants as caterpillars, hawk moths are not considered pests. The adults have an important role as pollinators of many plant species and are the most significant pollinator of papaya (pawpaw) crops.

Hawk moth caterpillars regularly attack just two species of plants in our garden, the Pentas and Madonna Lily, and one or two caterpillars can, and do, strip a plant in a matter of days. The one in my photo was evicted from a white-flowering pentas to give it (the plant!) a chance of survival.

The same site notes that Australia has 65 species of hawk moth (all the adults are shown here, with links to the caterpillars) of the 850 known worldwide. I’m not sure how many of them we have around Townsville but I have photographed adults of seven species and caterpillars of about six in my garden. (Caterpillars are hard to be sure about because each species can have two or three colour forms.)

I only have caterpillar-adult pairs of four species, however, so we have at least eight species altogether: Convolvulus Hawk Moth, Agrius convolvuliEupanacra splendens; Grapevine Hawk Moth, Hyppotion celerioHippotion rosettaDaphnis protrudens; White-brow Hawk Moth, Gnathothlibus erotus; Impatiens Hawk Moth, Theretra oldenlandiae; and (probably) Macroglossum micacea. Note that most of them don’t even have ‘common’ (i.e. English-language) names but have to get by, somehow, with Latin. I don’t think it bothers them.

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The other Lorikeet

Green parrot in tree

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet

Lorikeets are a family of small to medium-sized parrots which have specialised as nectar and pollen feeders – not that they are averse to the odd insect when it comes their way. The species we know best is the Rainbow Lorikeet, Trichoglossus haematodus, common across the Top End, right down the East coast and across to Adelaide, and gorgeously coloured.

Their nearest relations are another species in the same genus, the Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Trichoglossus chlorolepidotus. They are very much the same size, have the same habits (they even feed together sometimes) and have a similar range, being found from Cape York to Melbourne but not across to Adelaide or the Top End.

The individual in my photo is the first I’ve positively identified or photographed so I can say with great confidence that they are not as common around Townsville as the Rainbow Lorikeets but I’m not sure just how uncommon they are. Given their similarities, it would be easy enough to assume (wrongly) that any green parrot high in a flowering paperbark or poplar gum was the familiar Rainbow. I will look more carefully from now on!

I took this photo in Oak Valley, on the first Wildlife Queensland walk of the year. Check the branch blog for a full report on the event (in due course) and for news of upcoming trips.

Australia does have another four species of lorikeet but they are all smaller and duller than the Rainbow and Scaly-breasted, and only one of them (the Little Lorikeet) is known in our region. Ian Montgomery has a couple of nice photos of them from Paluma on his invaluable site, Birdway.

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Wildlife of Innisfail

I mentioned Yvonne Cunningham’s blog a while ago, when I reviewed her book on food gardening in the tropics, but I don’t always remember to keep up with the blog itself. That’s a shame, because she posts lots of lovely photos, especially of birds. A friend alerted me to the fact that Yvonne’s latest post is a particularly good one.

There are great sequences of a pelican and his fisherman mate (what a team!), soldier crabs and the shore birds feasting on them, and courting cassowaries. For good measure there’s a bloke getting a lot closer to a Doll’s-eye snake than I was game to.

Click here to read her post … and don’t forget to bookmark the site if you would like more of the same. Yvonne maintains an admirably regular weekly update schedule.

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Postcard Art auction

artworks on wall

Some of the artwork to be auctioned on Friday evening

North Queensland Conservation Council has a Postcard Art auction coming up soon – this Friday evening, in fact. The venue is the Umbrella Studio, 482 Flinders St, Townsville.

There are 130 works on offer, from perhaps 30 artists including Marion Gaemers, Jo Lankester, Bernadette Boscacci, Gai Copeman and Jan Hynes. The only guidelines were “postcard size” and a connection to the environment, so there is something for every taste.

It starts at 7 pm but you might want to get there a bit earlier to choose the works you want to bid for!

Fish print

Laura Castell (mixed media)


Alan Junior: Gabul the great carpet python takes on the corporations

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