Eco-Fiesta 2017

This year’s Eco-Fiesta, a few days ago, was much like those of previous years: a lovely day in the park with all sorts of loosely ‘greenie’ and ‘alternative’ people and organisations.  I wrote enough about the 2014 and 2013 events that I shouldn’t need to present an overview this time, so I will dive straight in to the things which caught my attention.

Wildlife Queensland had a well-staffed stall featuring a great gallery of flying fox photos. These animals get a bad press and need all the support they can get.

North Queensland Regional Plan had a very boring stall (I’m sorry, but it’s true!) which tried to engage visitors in planning for our region, the local government areas of Charters Towers, Burdekin Shire, Hinchinbrook Shire and Townsville. It’s a state government initiative and welcomes online input here. I told them about our declining rainfall. What’s your concern?

The Beekeepers had their usual displays of honey and hives, Continue reading “Eco-Fiesta 2017”

Bee-eater lives up to its name

rainbow bee-eater
Rainbow Bee-eater

As I’ve said before, Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus) take small flying insects on the wing, swooping from their perch and returning to juggle their prey for consumption. I saw this bird fly from our neighbour’s power line and was just able to get a shot through foliage a minute later. Its prey is, appropriately, a European honey-bee.

Rain at last!

We’ve had 70 – 100 mm of rain in the last couple of days and are nearly ready to say that the Wet has hit Townsville at last. December only brought us 41 mm and our gardens – to say nothing of Castle Hill and the Common – were getting desperate.

The insects have responded to the moisture immediately. I have seen two flights of winged termites, setting off to find mates and establish new colonies, and a walk around the garden this morning revealed a swarm of native bees as well as a variety of other little wildlife.

small black bee
Stingless native bee, smaller than a house fly

The bees (Tetragonula species) were flying in a loose swarm near a couple of pot plants for most of the day. Dozens were in the air at any one time, with smaller numbers resting (like the one above) for a while and then taking off again.

spider and prey
Silver Orb-weaver with bundled-up native bee

Sitting down in the middle of the swarm, as I did to take the photo, felt a bit weird just because we’re so used to the idea that bees sting and should be avoided. These bees don’t sting – can’t sting, in fact – and I was perfectly safe. They didn’t even bump into me. Some of them did, however, blunder into the web of a Silver Orb-weaver just above them and paid the price.

Elsewhere in the garden I saw a beautiful mantis nymph, translucent against the underside of a sunlit leaf, a pretty little green spider in its daytime retreat on a hibiscus leaf (I had to poke it out with a twig to take photos) and a fat green hawk-moth caterpillar happily chomping through the leaves of my sweet potatoes. Oh, and ants and butterflies and grasshoppers … the whole world comes to life with a good fall of rain. Less happily, that means we are soon going to see lots more mosquitoes.

green caterpillar on leaf stem
Hawk-moth caterpillar
green and white spider on leaf
Patterned orb-weaver, about 7 mm
baby green mantis
Mantis nymph – wings undeveloped
mosquito on arm
A mosquito beating the rush

Insects enjoying the nectar

long skinny wasp
Gasteruptid wasp

Bug hunters love flowers, not just for their own sake but for the bugs they attract. This set of photos shows most of the insects I saw in just ten or fifteen minutes on one profusely flowering shrub in Anderson Park, beginning with the wasps.

blue-black wasp on white flowers
Blue flower wasp, Scoliidae

This wasp is possibly a Blue Flower Wasp, Scolia soror, and certainly a close relation if not that particular species. There was another similar one feeding on the same shrub, distinguishable by a bright yellow patch on the back of its head; it may have been Scolia verticalis (see them both here, on Graeme Cocks’ site).

Scoliidae is just one family of wasps, the Flower wasps. Gasteruptidae (top pic) is another (BugGuide calls them “Carrot Wasps” and you can see why, but I don’t think they have a genuinely common name), and there are many more including Polistinae, the Paper wasps. This index page on Graeme’s site shows them with their nearest relations, the bees and ants.

small green bee on white flowers
Green native bee

This small native bee (Colletidae) is similar to one which appeared on my earlier all-on-one-plant post. The beetle below is not just similar – it is definitely the same species:

brown beetle on white flowers
Brown Flower Beetle, Glycyphana stolata
small fawn butterfly on flowers
Lycaenid butterfly

The odd angle of this shot was forced on me by my uncooperative subject but does allow me to point out a neat bit of mimicry: the eye-spots and tails on the lower part of the wings are a surprisingly good imitation of the butterfly’s head and antennae (there’s an even more striking example here, on a related butterfly). I’m sure this is not a coincidence, since tricking predators into attacking non-vital parts is great for survival.

blue dragonfly perching on twig
Palemouth Shorttail dragonfly, Brachydiplax denticauda

All the other insects here were attracted to the flowers. This dragonfly just wanted to perch for a while and found a suitable bare twig. He happens to be the first carnivore (insectivore?) on the page and he may well be looking out for prey amongst the smaller bugs attracted to the flowers. As I said in the beginning, bug hunters love flowers.

After the rain

pink and white bottlebrush flowers on tree
Bottlebrush flowers on the tree after the rain

We had our first cyclone of the season last week but it was only a little one (Dylan, category 2 at its biggest) and Townsville  was on the northern edge of its path so its main effect on us in Mundingburra was about 60mm of very welcome rain over two days. (Some suburbs did suffer more, I know, particularly from the storm surge on the Thursday morning. I don’t mean to be dismissive of their losses but I’m writing about my own little part of the city.)

The plants responded enthusiastically to the rain, none more so than the pink and white bottlebrush (Callistemon; I think it’s  a hybrid cultivar) in front of the house.  The insects, in turn, responded enthusiastically to the flowering plants and I have had fun seeing just how many different kinds I could spot on this one tree:

brown and white beetle on flower
Brown Flower Beetle, Glycyphana stolata, a scarab
black and yellow wasp on flower
A flower wasp, Campsomeris radula
Large mosquito on bottlebrush foliage
Metallic Mosquito, Toxorhynchites speciosus

The Metallic Mosquito is a very large species but does not, thankfully, attack humans. In fact it makes itself useful to us by preying on other mosquitoes. (One expert in Thailand counted some 420 species of mosquito of which a mere couple of dozen ever fed on people. Mosquitoes are victims of their bad press just as much as spiders are.)

Green bee amongst the stamens
A small native bee, Colletidae family

There were perhaps a dozen of these bees around the tree at any one time, making them the most numerous of the insects enjoying the flowers (which included, incidentally, some tiny black beetles which were too small and dull to photograph successfully).

Taking advantage of all of them, or trying to, were some predatory spiders – Lynxes – lying in wait amongst the flowers. I saw two different species. Both these spiders are very small, about the size of a house fly.

orange-brown spider on leaf
Lynx spider (Oxyopes genus) on bottlebrush leaf. It has a grey abdomen
brown spider with spiky legs
Lynx amongst the stamens