What’s around – mid October 2012

I have been away for much of the time since my last monthly survey of insect life in my garden but so little has changed that this is still a very easy report to write. We have had less than 1mm of rain in the last month so everything in the garden, having recovered from the abundance of nectar when the trees flowered, has gone back into maintenance mode, i.e. most of our usual species are around but only in small numbers. The only changes I’ve noticed since last month are that we now have a few Migrants and Pale Triangles among the butterflies and some Blue-banded Bees amongst the wasps and bees.

This time last year we had been drier and hotter for a while and grassfires were a worry but the story was otherwise similar.

What’s around – mid August 2012

mating craneflies
A mating pair of Tiger Craneflies, Nephrotoma australasiae. Legs everywhere!
The sexes are very similar but the female (at top of this picture) is more heavily built.

The total rainfall since my previous mid-month summary is exactly zero, and the relative humidity has been very low, too: below 20% at 3pm every day for the last two weeks, for instance. Temperatures have consistently swung between 8 – 10C overnight and the mid twenties during the day. Cool and dry is not what the bugs like and I’m beginning to think of them as being in ‘maintenance mode’, just ticking over and waiting for some warmth and moisture.

The paperbark is flowering, as I mentioned a few days ago, and so is the mango tree. The Macadamia is almost ready to follow suit, and so is the Poplar Gum. Each of these trees attracts its own group of nectar-feeders. The birds love the paperbark (as I mentioned in my previous post) and the poplar gum, but are not particularly fond of the other two. The honey bees don’t seem to care for the mango blossom but love the other three, so that pretty much leaves the mango to the butterflies, the flies (mainly hoverflies), wasps and native bees.

large hoverfly on mango blossom
Hoverfly on mango blossom

I’m seeing …

    • Quite a lot of little orb-weaving spiders – Silver Orb-weavers (Leucauge granulata), Spiny Orb-weavers ( which I now believe to be Gasteracantha sacerdotalis rather than Austracantha) and St Andrew’s Cross spiders; also quite a lot of jumping spiders (Salticidae), some Lynx, and a few flower spiders.
    • Hoppers and their nymphs, which often become food for the above.
    • Butterflies: reasonable numbers of Junonia and Eurema and grass moths; very small numbers of everything else but including Migrants, Skippers, Melanitis leda and recently one visiting Orchard Swallowtail.
Giant grasshopper on variegated leaves
Giant grasshopper on giant variegated lily
  • Diptera (Flies): Long-legged flies (see bottom of this page), Hoverflies (see at left) and Blowflies, with occasional soldier flies and craneflies (above) and – still – mosquitoes.
  • Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants): occasional little wasps including paper wasps (though no nests that I’m aware of) and a very few mud-daubers; some native bees again recently after a gap of a few months; the usual small ants and a slowly-growing green-ant colony.
  • Others: a few Giant Grasshoppers; a healthy population of cockroaches in the compost bin; but no mantises (although saying that usually ensures I will see one in the next day or so).

Same time a year ago

What’s around – mid May 2012

Caper Gull butterfly
Caper Gull, aka Australian Gull, Cepora perimale

There’s a reason we talk about the Dry season: in the last six weeks we have had one day with 16mm of rain, two days with less than 1mm, and 40 days with none at all. Temperatures have routinely been  16 – 20 overnight and 30 during the day in mid-April dropping very slightly to 28-29 now. We tend to exclaim ‘What gorgeous weather!’ fairly often.

Birds are drifting into town (where people at least water their gardens) because the countryside is drying out but no amount of watering quite compensates the insects for the lower temperatures and the lack of rain.

  • Spiders are doing best. This season seems to be orb-weaver heaven – Austracantha, Silver Orb Weaver and (especially) St Andrew’s Cross are doing very well. I discovered Argiope picta six months ago and now that I am aware of it I am seeing it reasonably often.
  • Butterflies: Cairns Birdwing are courting, while Ulysses and Orchard Swallowtail pass through the garden regularly; and there are lots of Eurema and quite a lot of Junonia hedonia, a few Clearwing Swallowtail, Common Crow, Common Eggfly, Lemon Migrant, Hesperidae and Caper Gull (aka Australian Gull), Cepora perimale.
  • Moths: a lot of small moths flitting around the grass during the day and attracted to house lights at night, but nothing bigger.
  • Wasps: the colourful little parasitic wasps, Braconid and Ichneumonid species, have returned in small numbers after being almost entirely absent for months, and I have recently seen a couple of new small paper wasp nests after a similar absence. We’re still seeing some mud-daubers (Delta arcuata), too.
  • Bees: Resin bees and some blue-bum Amegilla species. I posted about Carpenter Bees recently but haven’t seen them since then.
  • Flies: yes, mostly the tiny green long-legged Dolichopodidae, plus a fair few hoverflies, lots of bluebottles and some crane flies.
  • ‘True bugs’ (Hemiptera): hardly any.
  • Grasshoppers: a few Giant Grasshoppers, adults and sub-adults, but no very small nymphs.
  • Cockroaches, slaters and termites: lots in the compost bin and underground respectively, as always.
  • Beetles: none to speak of.
  • Others: A few ant-lion pits have appeared in the now-dusty soil under the mango tree, and I have seen some tiny mantis nymphs, but that’s about all.

Similar surveys a month ago and a year ago.

Carpenter bees

large bee approaching tree trunk
Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa sp., approaching nest

Australia’s largest bee is the Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa species. Females are black-and-gold monsters which are sometimes thought of as ‘Bumblebees’, although that name really belongs to an introduced species which has made itself at home in our southern states.

Carpenter Bees are solitary, like many other native bees, and they make nests by hollowing out chambers in soft wood. I have known them to use dead branches of our frangipani trees and, more recently, a dead branch of a small native tree (a ti-tree, if I remember correctly, but it has been dead for so long that I’m no longer sure). The nest holes are quite distinctive: a round hole the size of the tip of my little finger, as neat as anything I could do with a drill. The female provisions the cell with pollen as food for her offspring.

There’s a lot more about these bees at aussiebee.com, with photos which I must say are far better than mine. The best shot of all is this one showing buzz pollination in action. Amazing!

Early morning walk at Hidden Valley

I woke at 6.30 on the Sunday morning of our weekend at Hidden Valley and took my camera for a walk down to the river nearby (I would have taken people, too, but they were still asleep). It was barely light enough for photography so my first shots were a bit dark but the little river was so pretty I couldn’t resist.

River at Hidden Valley
Rushing down its rocky bed

My side of the river had been cleared some years ago so I was walking through long grass and scattered small trees, although trees on the other side were much denser and bigger. As I made my way upstream I came to a broad shallow pool:

Calm pool in the river
Still waters

Western rivers are famously transient and this one counts as a Western river since it runs down the Western slopes of the Great Dividing Range (its water must end up in the Burdekin). A few weeks ago it would have been carrying three or more times as much water, as fallen trees and scoured banks attest, but the pool was absolutely still when I saw it. I didn’t see a platypus but I can believe they live here.

Reeds in cloudy blue water
The water is faintly blue with fine silt

It was so early that many insects were still sleeping, some of them prettily dew-draped. Photos of sleeping bees, a mud dauber wasp, shield bugs (not asleep) and a nondescript small triangular moth are all on my Flickr photostream – just click the links to see them. The most beautiful of all was a dragonfly:

Dew-covered red dragonfly
I will wake up when it’s warm enough.