Green-ant and mealybug

Green-ant tending a lone mealybug on a fern frond
Green-ant tending a lone mealybug on a fern frond

Green ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) are a big feature of life in North Queensland. A lot of people dislike them for the very good reason that they sting but I don’t mind that too much because they are, after all, only defending themselves and they are fascinating to observe. I particularly admire the way they co-operate to make their nests.

They are among the many species of ant which have an amicable relationship with mealybugs. I don’t like mealybugs (Hemiptera, Pseudococcidae) as much as I like the ants, to be honest. Yes, I know mealybugs are only doing their best to survive, just like every other living creature, but they don’t do anything interesting and they do damage the plants they live on.

Yates Problem-solver gives the gardener’s perspective on them:

Mealybugs are small insects covered with a white mealy coating; some have white hairs attached to their bodies. The bugs feed by sucking on the plant juices. Mealybugs excrete a sticky substance called honey dew which ants like to feed on. The honeydew also provides a perfect medium for sooty mould growth. Mild temperatures and high humidity are perfect conditions for mealybugs to breed as eggs hatch every 2-3 weeks. Prolonged hot weather reduces numbers. Heavy infestations can occur on citrus trees, daphne, and other ornamental plants. Orchids and ferns, especially in shadehouses, can also become infested.

There is more on mealybugs’ life cycle and control strategies at About.com and The Spruce.

Economists’ environmental ignorance

Every so often I stumble on something on the internet which confirms a long-held suspicion, and this is one such item. All that is wrong with it is the title: it should have been Economists’ disastrous environmental ignorance is systematically ingrained or words to that effect. Here’s the gist of it:

Environmental Ignorance Is Economic Bliss

by Philip Barnes

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that economic activity is exceeding environmental limits and destabilizing both global and local ecosystems, demonstrably flawed pro-growth economic theory continues to be touted as the cure to our ailments. Could the collective of practicing economists, policy-makers, economics professors, and economics students all be suffering from something akin to the Dunning-Kruger Effect? As a community, are these individuals so unknowledgeable about the environmental consequences of pro-growth economic activity that they tend to systematically overestimate the discipline’s environmental performance?

… if you want to find a representative sample of courses being offered in the leading economics departments, looking at the US News and World Report cream of the crop is a useful approach. … For the 2012-2013 academic year in all ten of these departments, only one single course presented alternative economic theories through alternative learning methods. The one-off course entitled “Buddhist Economics” was a seven-week-long sophomore seminar at UC Berkeley taught by Dr. Clair Brown. Eight students enrolled. …

Moreover, in introductory courses for micro and macroeconomics, ecologically-minded economic theory and knowledge is woefully absent. This claim is supported by a recently published paper in which the author, Tom Green, reviewed the most popular introductory level economics textbooks and found that the causal relationship between economic activity and environmental consequence was either systematically ignored or underrepresented.

The whole article is here, for those who want it, and they may find themselves liking other articles on the same site. And Tom Green’s paper (click on the link in the quote) backs up Barnes’ article to the hilt – not that I needed much convincing. His “Conclusions and recommendations” begin:

Introductory economics textbooks in current use in British Columbia, as well as three leading US textbooks, one of which includes a Nobel laureate who has written with great concern about the environmental crisis as its lead author, are poorly suited for Econ101 courses at institutions that have made a commitment to sustainability and are seeking to integrate sustainability across the curriculum.

The standard textbooks give little space to content that addresses environment/economy linkages or that is significant to sustainability – on average, only about 3.2% of the text. Students will read many chapters and up to 289 consecutive pages without encountering any environmental content. The standard textbooks treat the environmental implications of economic activity in an overly stylised manner that is unrealistic, that adds little to student knowledge and that may well confound or even impair student understanding of the nature of our environmental predicament.

In a political world where “cold hard reality” is always, somehow, “economic reality”, we desperately need economics, as a discipline, to consider all the significant aspects of the activities it pronounces upon; and in a real world in which timeframes are measured in lifetimes, not accounting cycles, and business as usual is on its way to ruining the lives of tens of millions of people through environmental degradation, the environment is not just significant but crucial.

I know there are economists who are working to improve the situation – and I applaud them for it – but we can’t afford to wait until students who are yet to enter university reach career levels from which their voices will be heard. We need consciousness-raising and training for those already in the profession.

See alsoTiny Bhutan redefines “progress” by David Suzuki, May 9, 2013 – Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Product.

Cuckoo-shrikes

grey bird with black face
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike in poinciana tree

Cuckoo-shrikes are medium-sized grey birds which feed on “insects and small soft fruit such as native figs,” to quote Slaters’ invaluable Field Guide to Australian Birds yet again.  There are four Australian species and all are found in the Townsville region although only one, the Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, Coracina novaehollandiae, is a common visitor to my garden.

The one above was moving around in our poplar gum and poinciana a few days ago and I have photographed others in the last few years:

grey bird grooming
Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike grooming in our paperbark tree
grey bird in poplar gum
Immature Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike, distinguishable by smaller area of black on head, in poplar gum

The White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Coracina papuensis, is similar to the immature Black-faced, but it is paler overall and the black on its face is only between beak and eye. The one below is the only one I have photographed in my garden although it is probably not the only one I have seen, since they are similar enough that I wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference.

grey bird on branch
White-bellied cuckoo-shrike in poinciana tree.