Small deaths

Spiders are both predators and prey and sometimes we see one in each role in the same, fatal, encounter.

The Daddy-longlegs (Pholcus sp.) in these photos lives quietly between my computer and the wall, waiting for anything edible to come by. (It is probably a direct descendant of this family, since there are always a few in the area.) Jumping spiders, on the other hand, are roving hunters and this little brown one (I thought it might be Servaea or Simaetha sp. but have been reliably informed it is a juvenile Hypoblemum) was on the prowl when it blundered into a strand or two of web.

That had just happened when, by pure chance, I reached around to plug in a camera lead and saw what was going on. The daddy-longlegs, outweighed two to one, took care to stay at a safe distance as it used those long legs to further entrap its prey in silk. The process took a couple of minutes and the jumping spider never even looked like getting away. When it was secure, the daddy-longlegs finally came down to sink its fangs into its victim.

Most of us, I think, automatically (and not always logically) choose sides in a conflict like this. If it’s between a lion and a deer, we tend to sympathise with the deer; if a kookaburra and a snake, we’re on the bird’s side. Cat and gecko? Bird and butterfly? Bird and spider? We don’t always side with the hunter, or with the hunted, or with the vertebrate against the invertebrate, or the mammal against the reptile. What do we think about spider vs spider? Or spider vs fly? More interestingly, perhaps, why do we think whatever we think?

The other ‘small death’ I saw yesterday was, in fact, spider vs fly: one of our larger jumping spiders, Mopsus mormon, had captured a soldier fly:

mopsus mormon
Jumping spider with soldier fly on galangal leaf


The Stone Gods

The Stone Gods - coverThe Stone Gods

Jeanette Winterson
Hamish Hamilton, October 2007

Jeanette Winterson is a fiercely intelligent writer and this is her response to climate change, much as The Word for World is Forest was Ursula Le Guin’s response to the Vietnam war.

The cover may be restrained but The Stone Gods is as zany, in part, as anything Douglas Adams ever wrote. It is also sweetly romantic, raunchy and searingly polemical – The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy meets Rubyfruit Jungle and Collapse.

Superficially it is a love story replayed against our remote past and our near future but lurking just beneath the surface is a savage attack on the myopic corporatism which insists on business as usual while the global environment goes into toxic shock.

It’s a wild ride. The protagonist, Billie Crusoe, is female in two of her incarnations and a sailor marooned on Easter Island in the third, and her beloved is sometimes a robot. In one incident in the post-apocalyptic near future, bikie vigilantes rescue Billie from corporate thugs disguised as Japanese tourists. The confrontation escalates, and a few hours later members of the lesbian vegan rock band are handing out assault rifles.

Review by Malcolm Tattersall, 2007, revised and extended for Green Path 2016.

Butterfly season

This time of year, just after the end of the Wet season, is a good one for butterflies. Our suburban garden is full of them and I took advantage of the abundance by wandering around with my camera a few days ago.

The selection of shots I’m posting here leaves out several species which we often see but didn’t pose for me on the day. The Cairns Birdwing is most spectacular of them but has been featured here so often that I wasn’t  concerned about missing it this time.

Orchard Swallowtail
Female Orchard Swallowtail on bougainvillea

The Orchard and Fuscous Swallowtails are nearly as big as the Cairns Birdwing but not so common here. The Chocolate Soldier, Junonia hedonia; the Lemon Migrant, Catopsilia pomona; and the Pale Triangle, Graphium eurypylus are all smaller but much more frequent visitors. They are all about the same size as each other, and the same size as the four pictured below. (Links take you to my older photos, here or on flickr.)

blue tiger butterfly
Blue Tiger on hibiscus

The Blue Tiger is the most distinctive of the four. It is closely related to the Plain Tiger and Marsh Tiger, which have similar patterns in orange and black (but don’t visit us). They are all members of the subfamily Danainae within the family Nymphalidae. The Common Crow is also a Danaid. All of them lay eggs on poisonous plants so that their caterpillars absorb poisons which protect them from predators; the Crow seems to like our Desert Rose as a host plant.

crow butterfly
Common Crow on hibiscus
eggfly butterfly
Common Eggfly aka Blue Moon on dianella
brown butterfly
Blue-banded Eggfly on ixora

I have chosen photos of the undersides of these three – the Crow and two Eggfly species – to show how similar they are. All three are black or dark brown, depending on the light, with bands of white spots. The banding is strongest on the Common Eggfly and weakest on its Blue-banded cousin. I have photos of their upper sides here.

Those with an eye for detail may have noticed that the first three images show rather dilapidated individuals. This is, I think, not entirely random but a seasonal effect. If butterflies start emerging early in the Wet, many of them will be quite elderly by this time of year.

Those with an exceptional eye for detail may have spotted a small yellow-green spider in my first photo, just below the gap between the butterfly’s wings. I think it’s a jumping spider, Mopsus mormon. I don’t know whether it would be game to tackle the swallowtail but, in spite of the size difference, it is possible.