What’s around – mid August

The days are gradually lengthening and warming, although not by much: we are now reaching 27-29C some days instead of 25 a month ago, but nights are still dropping to 12C. There is still very little rain, which means that grass fires have continued around Townsville – and as far South as Rockhampton, too. Up here, grass fires end when the Wet arrives, around November, but South of the Sunshine Coast they are only beginning at that time of year.

Chocolate Soldiers (Junonia hedonia) are still the most common butterfly in our garden, with the Dingy Bush Brown (Mycalesis perseus) runner-up; the Common Crow probably comes third, with occasional Cairns Birdwings, Migrants, Blue-banded Eggfly and Common Eggfly making up the remainder of the field – oh, and a few Hesperiidae, the tribe of smallish butterflies which I wrote about in my previous post.

Moving away from butterflies …

Small spiky spiders (Gasteracantha and Austracantha) are still spreading their webs across every path in the garden, while a few Silver Orb-weavers and St Andrews Cross spiders keep their species going. It’s the same story with wasps and bees: a few representatives of most species (Delta mud-daubers, Polistes paper wasps, a tiny Chalcid, the blue-banded Amegilla, etc) but not many of any of them. Giant grasshoppers, ‘true bugs’ (Hemiptera) and beetles (Coleoptera) are likewise still around but in small numbers.

Flies, however, are going strong, especially hover-flies (Syrphidae). There are around 6000 species of hover-flies worldwide. Many of them mimic wasps or bees but they are all quite harmless and most are nectar and pollen feeders. Larvae (yes, maggots) of some species are useful to us because they eat insect pests such as aphids and thrips, while others recycle decaying plant matter.

Hover-fly on begonia
Hover-fly on begonia

Neon Cuckoo Bee

Bright blue and black bee feeding on sweet basil flower
Neon Cuckoo Bee feeding on Sweet Basil flower

This is an insect which has been eluding me for at least a year, since I first saw a very bright blue insect (wasp? fly? bee?) flying around my lawn. I have only seen them occasionally since then – perhaps half a dozen times altogether – and they always vanished too fast to identify. All I was sure of, until this one was good enough to permit a photo, was that they were about the size of a honey bee.

As the common name says, it is a bee – a native Australian bee, in fact – and ‘Neon’ obviously comes from its colour, but what about ‘Cuckoo’?

Well, it lays eggs in another species’ nest, just as real cuckoos do. To quote Wikipedia, “The female neon cuckoo bee seeks out the burrow nests of the blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulata), and lays an egg into a partly completed brood cell while it is unguarded. The larval cuckoo bee then consumes the larder and later emerges from the cell.” Its victim, the Blue-banded Bee, is a common sight in my garden and a photo appeared in this recent post.

The Cuckoo Wasp I wrote about in March uses the same reproductive strategy (see the Brisbane Insects page about them for more information). I wonder if any other kinds of animal do?

What’s in my garden – mid July

It’s a month since my last survey but not a lot has changed. The weather has mostly been so beautiful that staying indoors is a sin, but that equates to dry and relatively cool weather (max. 24- 26C, min 10-12C) which doesn’t encourage insect activity.

The butterfly species which has risen to prominence recently is the Common Crow. I got some nice pictures of them on snakeweed at Cape Pallarenda and Magnetic Island but they have become common in my garden too. They love one particular plant so much that two of them would share one flower:

Two Common Crows sharing a yellow flower
Two Common Crows sharing a meal

I don’t know what the plant is. It has a thistle-like flower and green-purple serrated leaves. Can anyone tell me?

Aside from the Crows, I have been seeing …

  • Butterflies: still lots of Chocolate Soldiers (Junonia hedonia), reasonable numbers of  Dingy Bush Browns (Mycalesis perseus), a few resident Melanitis leda, occasional Eurema, Cairns Birdwing, Common Egg-fly and others.
  • Moths: very few except Tiger Moths (Nyctemera), the little pale grass moths and occasional nocturnal visitors such as this one.
  • Flies, sap-suckers (Hemiptera) and grasshoppers: most species but in small numbers.
  • Mantises: surprisingly, I have seen a couple of juveniles of different species; no adults, though.
  • Spiders: lots of small spiky spiders, Austracantha and Gasteracantha, Jumping Spiders and some St Andrew’s Cross and Silver Orb-weavers. One mid-sized Huntsman was perfectly comfortable indoors but was gently evicted at the request of a visitor.
  • Dragonflies: none at all in my garden (but still quite a few near permanent water).
  • Wasps and bees: a couple of small nests of Paper Wasps (Polistes stigma townsvillensis), with occasional mud-daubers (Delta arcuata and D. sceliphron) and the insect I can’t help thinking of as the Blue-bum Bee. It isn’t a Bumble Bee but is formally known as the Common Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla sp.). I’m sure you can see the multiple sources of my name for it, even before you see its picture.
Blue-banded Bee(seen from behind) on pentas
Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla) on pentas