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.

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

Townsville Beekeepers Association at Eco-fiesta

beekeepers flyer

More from the Eco-fiesta, as promised: the Beekeepers were handing out flyers for their own activities (download the pdf here for contact info) and a warning about the Asian honey bees from Biosecurity Qld which you can get here. They were also showing off hives and sharing honey … which you can’t get here, unfortunately.

I didn’t see any information about native honey bees at the stall but it’s quite possible some of their members do keep them.

Abundant invertebrates

black butterfly attacking a black and white one on a pink-flowering creeper
A Common Crow, Euploea core, attacking a Marsh Tiger, Danaus affinis, feeding on Maiden’s Blush creeper

A week ago I mentioned my surprise and disappointment at how few bugs I found in a Hobart garden in the week after Easter. One of the expert Tasmanian bug-hunters I mentioned in that post was amused by my reaction:

I had a good laugh at your disappointment … Unfortunately you did come down at the beginning of the ‘slow’ period (especially bad April to August). We do have winter insects but for the most part it’s more a specialist pursuit of the very small critters :-)

In retrospect, I think there were two reasons that the low numbers surprised me. One is that my memories of childhood in South Gippsland (the nearest thing to a Tasmanian climate I have experienced) have probably been skewed by the fact we didn’t spend much time outdoors in winter, as well as blurred by the decades in between. The other is that I hadn’t really thought about the difference between Tasmania’s seasonal variation and Townsville’s. We have comparatively little variation in day length or temperatures and our far greater variation in rainfall seems not to matter quite so much. (N.B. the temperature scales on these two charts are the same but the rainfall scales are not.)

Hobart monthly temp and rainfall Townsville monthly temp and rainfall chart

A stop on the way home from Reef HQ Aquarium on Thursday drove home the difference quite emphatically, although quite by accident. I pulled up beside a mangrove creek which runs through a narrow strip of parkland between South Townsville and Hermit Park (something I have done several times before – see this post and links from it) and in the space of half an hour or so I was able to photograph, not just observe, more species of butterflies and more species of true bugs (Hemiptera) and more species of spiders than I had seen in my entire week in that South Hobart garden. I also saw, but didn’t photograph, another species of butterfly, some small grass moths, two species of native bee and various flies.

The links on this list mostly lead you to older photos, here on Green Path or on my Flickr photostream, but a couple taken on the day deserve more attention. One, showing the kind of behaviour that makes the observer rethink butterflies’ sweetness-and-light reputation, is featured at the top of this page.

orange-black bugs on twig
Assassin bug nymphs

Assassin bugs (Reduviidae) are common enough but this was the first time I had seen new hatchlings (here is a bigger one in the same parkland). They were dispersing down the mangrove twig away from the cluster of eggs they had just emerged from.