Microfauna (1) miscellaneous

Planthopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae
The TV antenna bug, more scientifically a Plant-hopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae, 2-3mm long

Over the last few months I have been exploring the limits of insect macrophotography, primarily by focusing (pun inevitable, I’m afraid) on the tiniest creatures I can find. I will present three collections under the ‘microfauna’ title; the other two will be spiders and flies, the two biggest groups of tiny invertebrates I have been looking at.

Just how big are they?

  • The biggest insects are moths the size of dinner plates – 300mm across.
  • The majority of insects that we notice are perhaps in the 5 – 50mm size range – ants and house flies up to hawk-moth caterpillars, dragonflies and biggish butterflies.
  • Everything on this page and its sequels is in the 1 – 5mm range, or smaller than a house fly. At life size they are roughly the size of a couple of letters of this text.

The smallest invertebrates to be found are smaller still (e.g. the smallest known adult spider is just 0.1mm long) but these are the smallest my camera can see clearly – and I will discuss the reasons for that sometime, too. Clicking on images will, as usual, take you to a larger version but the technical limits mean some are not very much larger.

Anyway, here is my tiny zoo. Its denizens are every bit as varied as their larger relations and some are quite bizarre. Most are unfamiliar because we don’t look properly at tiny bugs but just think ‘fly’, ‘ant’ or ‘dirt speck’ (and are, incidentally, more often wrong than right when we do so).

Planthopper nymph side view
Plant-hopper nymph, Eurybrachyidae, side view showing the odd rear-mounted antennae more clearly.

These nymphs (juveniles) look nothing like the adults. They moult (see a cast-off skin here) and end up looking like one of these bugs … very strange.

white hopper on leaf
Nymph of a plant-hopper, 2-3mm long.
green hopper nymph on leaf
Nymph of a plant-hopper, 3-5mm long
Hopper adult on leaf
Adult hopper, Fulgoroidea, 3-5mm

There’s another of adult, of a different species in the same family, here. The two nymphs above probably belong to the same family. They look rather like cicadas but are much smaller and are not very closely related.

Yellow and brown moth under a leaf
A tiny moth, 3-4mm long, hiding between the veins on the underside of a leaf.

This moth is probably from the Tineidae family, known as ‘clothes moths’ but eating a much more varied diet than that name suggests – see Wikipedia.

Orange wasp with dark wings hanging under leaf.
Wasp, possibly Braconidae, hanging under a leaf.
Wasp on orchid leaf
Small wasp, perhaps Braconidae, on orchid leaf; the ovipositor (‘sting’) shows it is a female.

Both these wasps are about 5mm long, so they are among the bigger bugs on this page. Braconid wasps are parasites of other insects. There are 15,000 or more species so identification is quite a task.

Black weevil on leaf
Black weevil, Curculionidae, 2mm
Brown weevil on leaf
Brown weevil, Curculionidae, 3mm

Weevils are beetles (Coleoptera) but have strange trunk-like snouts. Some members of the family grow to 15mm or more but the ones in my garden are tiny. There’s a whole page about Aussie weevils on OzAnimals.com.

Orange ladybird on hibiscus bud
Orange ladybird, Coccinellidae, on hibiscus bud

I will finish this page with a ladybird because it’s such a monster … compared to the other insects in the picture. Can you see two tiny pale greenish critters down inside the base of the bud? Now they are tiny!

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