Hawk moth feeding on pentas

brown moth at pink flowers

Hawk moth, Macroglossum micacea, feeding on pentas

Ten days ago I posted a photo of a hawk moth caterpillar feeding on our pentas plant, and today I have photos of an adult moth visiting pentas flowers for nectar.

I happened to spot the moth just on dusk and I have to say it was a much more challenging subject than the caterpillar, firstly because it moved so fast – hovering to feed, darting away and returning to another flower, etc, and never staying in one spot for more than a few seconds. Secondly, there wasn’t much light so I had to use the flash(which is why the background is so dark) and still had to use a fairly low shutter speed which left many of my shots with motion blur. The photos here are two of the best of about twenty I took. (Then again, poor shots cost nothing but time with digital photography. Would I have taken up insect photography in the age of film? Absolutely not!)

The moth is a species I have seen here before, Macroglossum micacea, always in the early evening. I don’t know what the caterpillar looks like and it seems that my favourite lepidoptera site doesn’t know either – it doesn’t show or describe the caterpillar on its page about the species – and even a Google image search produced no results.

The same moth from behind.

The same moth from behind

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A very short walk on Hervey’s Range

Stick insect hanging beneath a leaf

Stick insect

I had an idle hour or so while I was visiting family on Hervey’s Range last weekend so I wandered very slowly around their bush block with my camera, taking photos of all the interesting little wildlife I spotted. This is the wet season, albeit not a very wet season so far, so the bush is looking quite lush and the herbivorous insects are taking full advantage of the food supply – and the predators, in turn, are taking full advantage of them – by multiplying enthusiastically. I must have missed far, far more than I saw but I still came back with a good collection; here are some highlights.

The stick insect above was one of several on a small tree. When disturbed, they drop out of their tree and play dead. When that doesn’t work, they do their (very poor) best to scramble away and hide.

black and gold beetle

Tiger beetle

black beetle with white markings

A small Longicorn beetle on a blade of grass

brown beetle

Weevil on a blade of dry grass


Weevils are a family of beetles characterised by their trunk-like snouts, as seen (e.g.) here.


black bug on twig

Plant-hopper

cicada on leaf

A smallish cicada, perhaps the Brown Sugarcane Cicada, Cicadetta crucifera

cicada-like bug

Plant-hopper, Fulgoridae


The cicada looks like the odd one out but these three are all Hemiptera and all sap-suckers.


black and silver fly on twig

Robber-fly, rather small for the family at about 12mm long

brown insect on leaf

Juvenile (but already large) cricket or katydid

orange-brown cockroach

This rather handsome creature is a native cockroach


These three are unrelated.

I turned over the twig the cockroach was resting on to see where the spider silk was coming from and found a whole family – mother and hatchlings, anyway, though no father – nestling underneath:

gold and white spider

Mother and babies

There were lots more spiders, too. A small creamy-white Crab spider, Thomisus spectabilis, was waiting patiently on the tip of a leaf; a couple of Lynx spiders were doing the same, while one was protecting hatchlings like the spider above; and a large Garden Orb-weaver, Eriophora transmarina, slept the afternoon away under the edge of a leaf, waiting for evening to renovate her half-metre web and (hopefully) catch her dinner.

Presenting these spiders as thumbnail images obscures their size difference. The only one on this page which is larger in real life than an adult’s thumbnail is the Garden orb-weaver, which is only about almond size anyway in the posture seen here. The others are all considerably smaller, so they are larger than life-size even before you click on them to see high-resolution images.

white spider

Thomisus spectabilis flaunting her bandit mask

brown furry spider

Garden orb-weaver in her day-time retreat

striped spider on dead leaf

Lynx

 

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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 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 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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